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Understand this to gain control





An Introduction…

What is Stress?

Feeling ‘Stressed’ or being in ‘Stressful Situations’ is something all too common in our lives today. Life, work, family, friends, money, the news and social media are just a few of the things that we encounter each day which can become sources of our stress.

The problem is that stress is an inevitable part of our lives. It is the body’s natural response to danger and can protect us from threatening situations. Stress can be positive, negative, acute and chronic. It becomes harmful when it is out of proportion and chronic and emerges when there is an imbalance in our lives. This is when we perceive that the demands cannot be met or managed by the available resources and demands become ‘stressors’ when we believe that we cannot meet them.

Stress is defined as:

“A psychological, physiological and behavioural reaction that occurs when individuals perceive that they cannot adequately handle the demands being made on them”

Stress consists of the following components:


  • The Demands – A situation or person
  • The Appraisal – The demands are perceived as threats that can’t be handled making them ‘stressors’
  • A Psychological Reaction – Our thoughts and emotions
  • A Physiological Reaction – Often Instinctive
  • A Behavioural Reaction – Fight Flight or Freeze

What Causes Stress?

The Transactional Model of Coping developed by Folkman and Lazarus explains what causes stress to occur.

The transactional model sees stress as an outcome of the transaction between the demands that a person faces and his / her capacities and resources to manage / meet these demands.

Stress emerges when there is imbalance: when the demands cannot be met or managed by the available resources.

Ways To Reduce Stress

As you now know, a stressor is anything which makes us feel stressed and this can be anything from everyday issues to a traumatic event. Every day we face multiple issues or challenges in our lives, but they only become stressors when we believe that we can’t deal with them.

Stressors can be single events, repeated or on-going. They can be anticipated, or unexpected, internal (self-initiated) or external sources. They can be controlled or uncontrolled, caused by negative or positive events and can also vary in severity, impact and intensity. It’s needless to say that stressors are complex and can appear in all shapes and sizes.


Understanding stress and identifying your stressors is the start to living a less stressed life.

Our Stress Indicators Questionnaire will help you to identify your stressors and give you an insight into your levels of stress and in which areas of your life you can focus on to develop your Personal Stress Management Plan.

About Stress Appraisals

The Transactional Coping Model (Lazarus 1993) above suggests that two assessments take place when people face demands. The initial point of assessment is a key moment in deciding whether we will feel stress or not.

We first assess the demands of the situation, asking ourselves – how significant or serious is it? How many areas of our life will it affect, will it cause harm or loss and is it a future threat? If we perceive the situation to not be important then no stress will be experienced. However, if we think that the situation is of importance and can cause damage, then feelings of stress will develop and a secondary appraisal will begin.

The secondary assessments are all about our capacity to handle the demands. We will ask ourselves; do we have the appropriate capacities or resources to manage the demands? If we believe that we have the sufficient capacity or resources to handle the situation only a mild stress will emerge, and we may feel only challenged. But if we believe that we do not have the required capacities to address the demands then high levels of stress will be experienced.

Both appraisals are different and very much affected by our personality traits, capacities and vulnerabilities. They will also be determined by the context in which they occur.

Stress science research suggests that often people will have an exaggerated view of their demands and they will under-evaluate their resources. Given that the assessment stage is so key to our stress responses, working to ensure a more realistic appraisal can help to reduce the onset of stress and levels of stress experienced.

Managing Our Stressors

Managing our stressors is not always just to meet the demands of stress. When we assess our resources against the demands of stress, it is important to know that we can sometimes fully or partially meet the demands with our current resources.

We can also combat stress by increasing our resources which will enable us to meet the demands but also by using the resources that we have to reduce the demands to a manageable level.

Types of Stress

As we mentioned earlier stress is an essential part of life and not always bad. ‘Eustress’ is the term used for positive or beneficial stress. It can be physical, psychological and emotional and although usually short-term it can have numerous benefits such as energising and motivating us, increasing coping mechanisms and performance, increasing our levels of positivity.

‘Distress’ is the term used for negative stress, it can have strong physiological, psychological and behavioural response often leading to reduced performance, depleted energy, unpleasant feelings and physical, mental and emotional fatigue.

Negative stress can be Acute or Chronic

Acute distress is short term, infrequent and followed by recovery usually an immediate response to an event. This stress response is essential for facing danger and has no harmful long-term consequence.

Chronic distress however is a frequent or continuous stress response with little or no recovery. It can drain us physically, mentally, and emotionally and can have harmful long-term effects. Chronic stress tends to build up over time and often goes unnoticed.

Stress symptoms are very individualised and can present in different ways whether they are acute or chronic as well as if they are Physical, Psychological or Behavioural

For more information on stress symptoms check out our Symptoms of Stress article and try our Stress Indicators Questionnaire to get a greater insight into your Stress.

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