aged person holding stress ball for managing stress

Stress Management: Symptoms, Types, Causes, and Relieving Stress

Stress is an everyday event in life. Stress is an unpleasant emotional reaction a person has when he or she perceives an event to be threatening.  The event itself is called a stressor. Your effort to reduce stress is called coping

Hans Selye, who is known as the “father of stress research” defined stress as, “the non-specific response of the body and mind to any specific demand made upon it.”  

The concept of “stress” has been borrowed from the natural sciences and during the 18th and 19th centuries stress was equated with “force, pressure or strain exerted upon a material object or person which resists these forces or attempts to maintain its original state”.  

Hans Selye was first exposed to the idea of ‘Biological Stress’.

Physiological and Psychological Symptoms of  Stress

Hans Selye, the first major researcher on stress, and other researchers were able to trace exactly what happens in our body during an emergency response of fight or flight.  A series of biochemical changes prepare us to deal with the threat or danger or run away from it.  

Any problem, imaginary or real, can cause the cerebral cortex which is the thinking part of the brain to send an alarm to the hypothalamus, the main switch for stress response, located in the midbrain. The hypothalamus then stimulates the sympathetic nervous system to make a series of changes in the body. The heart rate, breathing rate, muscle tension, metabolism, and blood pressure all increase.  Hands and feet get cold, and blood is directed away from the digestive system into larger muscles that can help us to fight or run.  The pupils dilate to sharpen the vision, hearing becomes more acute, diaphragm and anus get locked.

While all these are going on something else also happens that can have long-term negative effects if left unchecked. Your adrenal glands start to secrete corticoids which inhibit digestion, reproduction, growth, tissue repair, and the response of immune and inflammatory systems. In short, some very important functions that keep your body healthy begin to shut down.

Essentially, sudden and severe stress generally produces:

  • Increase in heart rate
  • Increase in breathing (lungs dilate)
  • Decrease in digestive activity (don’t feel hungry)
  • Liver releases glucose for energy

Therefore, stress affects both your body and mind.

All stresses are not bad. Stress is rather a great motivator and compels us to achieve more. Stress is not only desirable but also essential to life. 

Whether the stress you experience is the result of major life changes or the cumulative effect of minor everyday worries, it is how you respond to these experiences that determine the impact stress will have on your life.

Sources and Causes of Stress

Stress in life can come from multiple sources which, in the post-Covid era, may include working from home. 

A few of the known sources of Stress are:-

  • Our environment and surroundings – These bombard us with demands to adjust.  We must endure bad weather, noise pollution, traffic problems, and many more.
  • Social factors like relationships, deadlines, financial problems, disagreements, loss of loved ones, etc.
  • Physiological – Illness, body pains, ageing, accidents, poor nutrition, obesity, and sleeplessness are all body problems. The rapid growth of adolescence and menopause in women can also result in stress. These are a few of the physical symptoms of stress.
  • Organizational factors also cause a lot of Stress. Managing teams, meeting expectations of customers and seniors, acquiring new skills, constant fear of losing the job, thinking about a salary increase, appraisals, team meetings, presentations, deadlines, and many more.
  • Your thoughts – Your body and mind interpret and translate complex changes in your thoughts and determine when to turn on the emergency response.

Stress has become an inevitable companion today in all fields of life whether a person is an office goer getting late for office or overburdened teacher or student or overworked housewife or a farmer tilling the field under the hot sun or a soldier standing guard on snow-clad mountains or a patient waiting endlessly for his turn to meet the doctor. 

According to American Psychologists, Sarason, Brown, and Mcgill, stress is the response to events that threaten or challenge a person. Whether it be a paper or examination deadline, a family problem. The circumstances are known as a stressor. These stressors affect everybody and each individual is affected differently based on his age and experience in handling stress or coping skills. 

However, each one you will be affected by various degrees of Stressors. A few of the Stressors or examples of stressors are as below which causes of stress:-

  • Death of a spouse or a close family member
  • Divorce or break-up in a relationship
  • Detention in jail
  • Major personal injury or illness
  • Being fired at work
  • Retirement from work
  • A major change in the health of self or a family member
  • Pregnancy
  • Sex difficulties
  • Major business re-adjustment (merger, bankruptcy, etc.)
  • Taking a loan or repayment
  • A major change in responsibility at work (promotion, demotion, transfer, etc.)
  • Son or daughter leaving home
  • Trouble with in-laws
  • Trouble with boss
  • Change in residence (change in city, country, or weather conditions)
  • Family issues (get together, arguments, getting along, etc.)
  • Vacations
  • Minor violation of the law

(Sources: Holmes & Rathe, 1967; Ruch & Holmes, 1971)

These are a few of the Stressor events which affect everybody. However, adults, adolescents, elderly people, and experienced persons are affected differently. For example, at the age of 75 years, a person may not be that stressed due to the death of her spouse, however, at a young age, it may be a major cause of stress and depression.

People are feeling stressed due to the price rise. According to an estimate, 82% of Indians are stressed out today. The prices of everyday items have increased due to inflation – gas prices, energy bills, and grocery costs. People are stressed due to supply chain issues and global uncertainty in the backdrop of the war between Ukraine and Russia. So, it can be understood that stress can be caused by multiple factors, and most of them are not in your control.

According to a WHO report, the prevalence of anxiety and depression has increased by 25% worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Healthy coping mechanisms for stress

A person’s efforts to reduce stress are called coping

Constantly changing cognitive and behavioural efforts to manage specific external and/or internal demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of a person (Folkman & Lazarus, 1984)

The two basic ways of coping are 

  • Problem-Focused Coping: You attempt to reduce stress by acting to change whatever it is that makes the situation stressful. For example, if you are constantly late by 10-15 minutes to the office due to heavy traffic. You change the situation by leaving 15 minutes early even if you have to wake up 15 minutes earlier than necessary.  
  • Emotion-Focused Coping: You don’t change the situation, but instead change the way you feel about it. Maybe your boss doesn’t mind your coming late by 10-15 minutes, so you shouldn’t be hard on yourself. 
  • Avoidance is another strategy wherein rather than thinking about the stressful event you just ignore and put it out of your mind. Sometimes, it is said that stress is in the eyes of the beholder or at least in the mind. A relatively minor event may give you stress if you interpret it negatively.

Stress Cycles

Stress has several immediate effects. It also has long-term behavioural, physiological, emotional, and cognitive effects. If these hinder adaptation to the environment, then they become stressors and create a distress cycle.

distress cycle diagram
(Source: From Charlesworth & Nathan, 1984)

Wellness Cycle of Stress

Many people develop coping skills and are better able to respond adaptively to stressor events. This wellness cycle of stress is to be understood for managing stress and improving wellness and overall wellbeing.

(Source: From Charlesworth & Nathan, 1984)

Responses to Stress

The responses to stress are varied by different people in various circumstances.

Normal Responses

  • Feeling strong emotions: sad, fear, grief, rage
  • Having unwanted, intrusive thoughts about events
  • Resistance to thinking about events
  • Temporary physical symptoms: headaches, stomach distress
  • Resuming one’s normal pattern of life 

Not so normal response 

  • Being overwhelmed by intense emotions; experiencing panic or fatigue
  • Having disturbed, persistent images and thoughts that interfere with usual functioning
  • Long-term problems like being unable to work properly  

Ways to manage stress

There are approaches to any difficult situation – Grounding, unhooking, acting on your values, making room, engaging, and being kind. 

  • Ground yourself during emotional storms by noticing your thoughts and feelings, slowing down and connecting with your body by slowly pushing your feet into the floor, stretching and breathing
  • Refocusing and engaging with the surrounding
  • Noticing that a difficult thought or feeling has hooked you. Realise that you are distracted by a difficult thought or feeling, and notice it with curiosity
  • Silently name the difficult thought or feeling
  • Refocus on what you are doing
  • Leave the situation or thought for a moment
  • Change what can be changed, accept what cannot be changed, and live by your values
  • Give up and move away from your values if it is becoming a burden
  • Notice pain in yourself and others but respond with kindness. Unhook from unkind thoughts by noticing and naming them.
  • Try speaking to yourself kindly. If you will be kind to yourself, you will have more energy to help yourself and others and will feel motivated
  • Trying to push away difficult thoughts and feelings. Its avoidance techniques for coping with stress. 

Relieving Stress

Several ways and techniques are practiced to relieve stress. To de-stress yourself, you should practice a few of the following techniques as per your understanding and knowledge. These will help in burnout situations.

Physiological Coping Techniques: 

  • Relaxation – Go easy with yourself. If your body is feeling discomfort, change the situation. People go for short vacations after a hectic schedule at home or office to unwind self. 
  • Mediation – For overall wellbeing and better mental health, the practice of meditation is helpful. It’s a very old practice that is being accepted by modern-day science. There is enough research and evidence that meditation helps with stress, anxiety, and depression. 
  • Controlled Breathing – It is common knowledge wherein you are advised to ‘take a deep breath’ and ‘take it easy’. It helps immediately. 

Behavioural Coping Techniques 

  • Time management – make a list of things, arrange your list in priority, set aside a block of time, be flexible, and plan for leisure activity: avoid overloading,  and stop procrastination.
  • Self-monitor
  • Be yourself
  • Be task oriented
  • Be patient
  • Be realistic
  • Have a constructive work
  • Use supportive relationships 

When coping is unsuccessful, and the stress does not subside, the individual may seek clinical attention for medical or psychological arousal caused by chronic stress. 

Quality sleep, less screen time, taking time out for a workout, having a potent nutritious diet, and many more mindful measures can help you adapt and live life better.


  • Morgan, C. T., King, R. A., Weisz, J. R., & Schopler, J. (1986). Introduction to psychology (7th ed.)
  • Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Richard P. Halgin (2013). Abnormal Psychology: Clinical Perspectives on Psychological Disorders (7th ed.)
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