Stress: Our Enemy and Ally

By Regine Tan

What is stress?

According to the World Health Organization, stress can be defined as being in a state of worry or mental tension caused by certain situations. Being stressed is a completely natural human response which every human being experiences to an extent. However, every person’s degree of stress is different due to various reasons such as how some people are naturally more sensitive, so they tend to be more reactive to stress. Everyone has their personal stress response, either coming from their genetics, upbringing, or experiences which all impact the way their body reacts to stress. 

Symptoms of stress?

Every individual has their own unique ways of reacting to stress, negatively or positively. 

Some primary effects of stress could be:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Chest pain and high blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Indigestion or heartburn
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred eyesight or sore eyes
  • Panic attacks
  • Sleep problems
  • Difficulty breathing

One main effect of stress is muscle tension, this is when our brain sends a signal to the nerves in our body to go into ‘protection mode’ because our stress levels are too high. Our nerves would then activate our muscles to tighten and increase their tone for protection. 

Having difficulty breathing is also another one of the main effects of stress which can also be referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ reaction, this reaction makes our breathing faster to help us take in more oxygen to be ready for action. If this extra oxygen is not used up, there would be a temporary imbalance in the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our blood. Long extensive periods of stress can also trigger panic attacks as it causes the body to produce a higher amount of stress chemicals like adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol. Adrenaline makes the heart beat faster and causes blood pressures to go up and gives you more energy whilst Cortisol increases glucose in our bloodstream that enhances the brain’s use of glucose and also increases the availability of materials and substances in bodies that help repair tissues. 

Is stress positive or negative?

Stress is proven to be both positive and negative, depending on the situation, or the person themselves. Positive stress can be seen to be a motivator to focus, to work harder, and to push yourself and endure difficult situations which builds up your confidence and mental stability. Or, one could be stressed because of an exciting upcoming event like weddings, holidays, or pregnancies which could potentially sprout to further unnecessary worries. This is known as eustress, where stress is seen in a positive form as it has a beneficial effect on one’s health, motivation, performance, emotional well-being etc. Contradictorily, the antonym of this is distress, meaning stress is seen in a negative form which could impact one’s mindset and life negatively. Examples of distress would include neglect, abuse, loss etc. 

Speaking from the perspective of a teenager, teens would usually experience distress through exams, concerns for their family, school, friendships, relationships and so on. According to Psycom, it states that 83% of teens experience stress through school, 69% through getting into a good college or university or career choices, 65% through financial concerns for their family. These factors led to after effects such as overeating or eating unhealthy foods also known as ‘binge eating’, skipping meals, sleep deprivation, health problems etc. 

For some people, if the stress they are experiencing remains consistently over a long period of time, it can have a negative impact on the person’s immune system and physical health. This could lead to many health problems like high blood pressure, heart diseases, stroke, obesity and diabetes. However, the majority who experience these problems tend to be adults. 


Adult stress differs from child stress. Children and teens’ stress usually revolve around being unable to cope with threatening, difficult or painful situations. On the other hand, adult stress usually revolves around issues work-related or financial conflicts. Despite that, adult stress can sometimes be caused from experiencing abuse or neglect as a child which can have a significant impact on an adult’s quality of life. Scientifically speaking, unresolved trauma can cause massive changes in the brain’s structure and function which could lead to alterations in the neurotransmitters that regulate the different moods and emotions. 

In the UK, statistics from Champion Health show that 13.7 million working days are lost each year in the UK because of work-related stress, anxiety and depression. Additionally, statistics from The Workplace Health Report show that 76% of employees report moderate to high or high levels of stress, 33% report that high levels of stress impact productivity. But 54% of employees report that the perfect amount of stress enables them to thrive. This shows that stress has a positive impact as well as a negative impact. Some people hold a positive stress mindset and they see stress as more of a challenge to be embraced rather than a problem to be solved. 


The first thing to do when you are feeling stressed is having the realisation that stress is actually causing you a problem that is affecting your lifestyle. Then, identify the symptoms that you are having due to the stress you are experiencing. With that information, you can see what needs to be done to alter your lifestyle back to normal. 

Examples of what you can do:

  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Reduce smoking and drinking
  • Physical exercise
  • Meditation
  • Maintaining a healthy sleep schedule

Some forms of stress become very extreme and end up as diagnosed mental disorders such as anxiety, or depression. Curing these mental disorders would be more difficult therefore, more assistance would be required. For example, hiring a therapist who can guide you to see how your feelings, thoughts, choices and actions affect each other. Or, going on prescribed medication to relieve symptoms and prevent recurring patterns. 

To get help, you can call:

  • SANEline on 0300 304 7000 
  • NSH on 111
  • Samaritans on 116 123
  • Shout on 85258
Posted in News, Science & Tech.