What is stress?

This page explores the causes of stress, how we can recognise our own personal warning signs, and ways we can deal with stress to help lead happier and more fulfilling lives.

We all feel stressed from time to time, however, for some people the pressure they are facing in their daily life becomes too much. By understanding stress and how to recognise our own personal warning signs we can find ways in which to deal with stress to help lead happier and more fulfilling lives. The information below details the symptoms and causes of stress, with a short self-study module at the end with the key points to help you to cement your learnings.


What is stress?

Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. We all need a certain amount of pressure to function well, as pressure helps people to reach their peak efficiency.  However, when pressure becomes too intense and prolonged, this can lead to more serious symptoms and problems such as anxiety, depression, headaches, weight gain/loss, sleep disturbance, sweating, abdominal pain, chest pain and panic attacks. 

Stress can have a profound effect on someone’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour. It can cause them to feel anxious, out of control and unable to cope. This can lead to feeling irritable or constantly worrying about situations and can even affect a person’s self-esteem. Acute stress might come from any area of life, including work, home, relationships, illness or finances.


Causes of stress

There are a wide range of causes of stress and they will differ from one person to another – what may cause stress for one person may be taken in their stride by another person.

However, common causes of stress are bereavement, getting married, divorce, debt, ill-health, moving house, preparing for and sitting exams, changing jobs and problems at work.

Pressure of work is a common cause of stress, perhaps worsened by staff shortages or absences, along with problematic relationships with work colleagues or a manager, restructures, other major changes and/or worries about losing one’s job. People are often reluctant to ask for help for fear of demonstrating weakness or appearing to be unable to cope.


Stress symptoms

It is important to recognise when you are stressed so you can steps to deal with it.  There are many common signs and symptoms – see our list below of stress symptoms.

To see whether you are stressed you could try the Stress Management Society’s online stress test

If several of the symptoms below apply to you, you may want to consider taking action to tackle stress.

Physical Symptoms

  • allergies
  • asthma or breathlessness
  • chest pains
  • constipation
  • cramps or muscle spasms
  • fainting spells
  • headaches or migraine
  • heart attack
  • high blood pressure
  • indigestion
  • nausea
  • peptic ulcers
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • sexual difficulties
  • skin disorders
  • tendency to sweat
  • tiredness
  • sleep problems
  • recurring illness
  • tremors and nervous tics.

Emotional symptoms

  • loss of interest in others
  • aggression
  • anxiety
  • crying
  • denying there is a problem
  • depression
  • dread of the future
  • fearing failure
  • feeling alone
  • feeling neglected
  • increased irritability and a loss of interest in others
  • heightened sensitivity to criticism
  • loss of concentration
  • loss of sense of humour
  • taking no interest in life
  • thinking you are bad or ugly
  • unable to show true feelings.

Behavioural symptoms

  • avoiding difficult situations
  • craving for food
  • difficulty getting to sleep and early morning waking
  • drinking and smoking more
  • lack of appetite
  • restlessness/unable to settle
  • difficulty concentrating
  • lots of things on the go
  • signs of tension, such as nail biting
  • unable to make decisions.

The stress symptoms mentioned above can be short-lived if you take steps to relieve yourself from stress or pro-actively avoid becoming stressed.

If you experience continuous stress and find that the symptoms do not go away, it can be helpful to seek help. Consulting your GP is a great place to start. Seeking professional help early may help you to potentially avoid further psychological problems.

It is important to recognise your own stress symptoms so you can manage it or seek support if needed.

This page explores the causes of stress, how we can recognise our own personal warning signs, and ways we can deal with stress to help lead happier and more fulfilling lives.

The body’s reaction

When we are under stress our muscles tense, our blood pressure rises and our hearts beat faster. We breathe faster to speed up the time it takes to get oxygen into our blood. To divert as much blood as possible to our limbs our digestion is interrupted, saliva dries up and the muscles to the bowel and bladder relax which allows it to release waste and make the body lighter. More sweat is produced and the body becomes flooded with stress hormones. All of this is a natural reaction in the body to allow for the ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ response. Once the threat has passed the body should relax and return to its normal state.

These responses were very helpful to our ancestors who may have had to escape predators, but our ancient physical emergencies have now been replaced by perceived modern day psychological threats. Our physiological response to stress is the same, whether we are reading a stressful email or need to jump out of the way of a car, and unfortunately the stresses of modern day life can mean that our stress responses are activated frequently. We often don’t give our bodies or minds sufficient time to rest after each stress-filled moment.

What is stress? self-study module

In this short self-study module you will learn about stress, what causes it and how to identify if you are feeling overly stressed.
Cover Slide
What is Stress?
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Before you begin.
Before you begin, remember:

• Be open and honest with yourself
• Treat yourself with kindness and respect
• Be present
• Enjoy it!

Opening task
Before you start, take note of what brought you to this workshop, and take a moment to notice any emotions or feelings you are experiencing right now.
What is stress?
What is stress?

Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. We all need pressure to function well and it helps us to reach our peak efficiency but when it becomes too intense and prolonged, it can lead to more serious symptoms such as stress.

Work can make us feel stressed.
Work can make us feel stressed if it is worsened by staff shortages, unhealthy relationships, restructures, major changes or worries about losing your job.
Do you regularly deal with these issues at work?
Work can make us stressed if we regularly deal with any of the issues listed below.

• Risking your life
• Being responsible for the lives of others
• Facing death
• Losing colleagues through death and injury
• Facing the unknown
• Dealing with people in shock and crisis
• Working long hours
• Spending significant time away from home and family
• Being or feeling misunderstood.

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Do you notice any of these early warning signs in yourself or others?
People are often reluctant to ask for help which can lead to acute stress. Do you notice any of these early warning signs in yourself or others?

• Headaches
• Tearful
• Excess sweating
• Sleep disturbance
• Overwhelmed or hopelessness
• Angry
• Tense Muscles
• Drinking or smoking often.

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Do you recognise any of the following thinking styles?
When we feel stressed, we may not think rationally. Do you recognise any of the following thinking styles?
Overgeneralisation.
Overgeneralisation.
"It’s happened once so it will happen over and over again."
Blaming.
Blaming.
You hold others responsible or blame yourself for every problem.
Filtering.
Filtering.
Taking on the negative and discarding the positive.
Being right.
Being right.
Unable to accept when you are wrong.
Assumption.
Assumption.
Not checking the facts or basing your conclusions on previous experience.
Misinterpretation.
Misinterpretation.
Taking things the wrong way such as emails or texts from your colleagues.
Keep a stress diary.
Keep a stress diary.

A stress diary can help you become more aware of what is causing your stress and help you to develop coping mechanisms when under pressure. For the next few weeks, make note of the date, time and place of stressful episodes. Give the stress a rating between 0 and 10 (where 10 is the highest level of stress):

• What you were doing?
• Who you were with?
• How did you feel?
• What were your thoughts?

Brought to you by Pharmacist Support
Brought to you by
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Thanks for learning!
What would you like to do now?
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How to manage stress

As outlined on this page, stress can have a profound effect on someone’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour. The act of taking control and finding a solution that specifically meets your needs is in itself empowering. Moreover, there are many different ways to manage stress, depending on the individual. This is is why we have a page full of information, guidance and support on this topic.

Go to Managing Stress

Are you looking for free mental health and wellbeing training?

Our Wellbeing Learning Platform is for individual wellbeing learning and training and is available to pharmacists, trainees and students. By signing up to the platform, you can access a range of free online wellbeing workshops such as Stress Management and Building Resilience and Live the life you want to lead.

Find out more and sign up for free

Other support on managing stress

Other support on managing stress

Managing stress

This page focuses on ways to deal with daily stresses and pressures. It includes a self-study module with ways to help you manage stress and tasks to implement right away to help you get started.

Other support on managing stress

Anxiety and stress management for students

The short self-study module covers ways you can determine what is causing your stress and tips to help manage stress and anxiety as a pharmacy student.

Other support on managing stress

Additional mental health and wellbeing support

This page provides an introduction to how and where you can get mental health and wellbeing help. This includes through Pharmacists Support, the NHS, and other charities and organisations.