Understanding and Finding Support for Stress

Learn what stress is, including its different types, signs and symptoms, causes and risk factors, diagnosis and treatment options.

Stressful situations happen to all of us, and how we respond and treat stress dictates how we can move through it. For instance, you or someone you know may have experienced pressure-filled moments like working through the pandemic, moving to a new home, raising kids, or mourning a loved one’s death that caused unavoidable stress. In these cases, stress may leave you or someone you know with feelings of deep sadness, physiological changes such as stomach upsets, headaches, a spike in blood pressure, or mood changes. Stress moves and impacts us in mysterious ways, and it is important to be mindful of when these moments arise. Stress is unavoidable, but how we respond to and manage stress will assist us in moving through it more easily. Luckily, there are healthy ways to relieve and recover from stress.  

After reading this article, we hope you begin to better understand stress, including its different types, signs and symptoms, causes and risk factors, diagnosis and treatment options. We'll also explain how it impacts different ages and gender. 

What is stress? 

Stress is the body’s natural physical, emotional, and psychological response to big or small changes, stimulating our fight-or-flight mode. In stressful situations, the brain blasts cortisol hormones through the body, signalling that something isn’t right. While some might consider the possibility of positive stress (i.e., going on a first date), too much stress can be harmful. If stress lingers and goes unaddressed or untreated, you could be at risk for developing chronic illnesses like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or more. 

Understanding different types of stress 

There are a few types of stress, and if they go untreated, it may lead to burnout, anxiety disorders, and depression. Chronic stress, for example, can manifest in the body, putting your autonomic nervous system into high drive. In order to stop stress from getting worse, it’s imperative to speak with a certified doctor or practitioner to understand the type that may or may not be impacting you. 

Types of stress may include:

Eustress (adrenaline)

Not all stress is bad! Eustress or positive stress generally occurs when, for example, we are confronted with a challenge we are excited about, and it keeps us motivated and produces positive feelings of excitement.

Acute stress

Acute stress is common to everyone and is our immediate response to a new and challenging situation. For example, if you are assigned a challenging task at work that is pushing you out of your comfort zone. 

Episodic acute stress

Episode acute stress occurs when an individual experiences frequent episodes of acute stress. For example, taking on too many responsibilities at home and work, the person feels in a constant state of stress and overwhelm. This type of stress can be physiologically and psychologically harmful.

Chronic stress

Chronic stress is the most harmful form of stress, and if left untreated, it can cause significant damage to your physical and mental health. Some examples of chronic stress may include long-term unemployment or an abusive relationship.

Gender and age differences

Stress shows up differently for women, men, and children. A 2021 study by the National Library of Medicine reported that low libido levels were linked to high-stress levels for women. Other studies have indicated that women’s onset of depression was tied to acute and chronic stress, and other mental health conditions, like anxiety, were exacerbated by stress. Men’s stress is often prompted by financial and work pressures, and children’s stress often goes unnoticed.

Signs and symptoms

Stress symptoms range in frequency (short-term or long-term) and severity (mild to severe). Sometimes symptoms may result in behavioural and cognitive changes and emotional and mood shifts. It’s important to remember is that mental health can impact stress levels, and stress levels can impact mental health. 

A comprehensive list of signs and symptoms that affect the body, mood, behaviour and cognition are listed below:

Common signs of stress: 

  • Mood changes 
  • Clammy or sweaty palms
  • Digestive Problems and diarrhea 
  • Difficulty sleeping 
  • Dizziness 
  • Anxious feelings 
  • Frequent sickness
  • Grinding teeth 
  • Increased heartbeat 
  • Trembling 
  • Inability to concentrate

Common effects on the body: 

  • Headache 
  • Muscle tension or pain (especially in neck and shoulders)
  • Chest pain or rapid heartbeat 
  • Fatigue + sleep problems 
  • Loss in sex drive
  • Stomach upset or vomiting 
  • High blood pressure 

Common effects on mood: 

  • Anxiety 
  • Lack of motivation and morale 
  • Limited focus 
  • Overwhelm 
  • Irritability and anger 
  • Sadness or depression 
  • Unhappy or feelings of guilt
  • Unable to relax 

Common effects on behaviour:

  • Eating changes 
  • Angry outburst 
  • Increase drug, tobacco or alcohol use
  • Socially removed 
  • Less exercise 
  • Nervous habits (i.e., teeth grinding)
  • Neglect responsibility (family or work)

Common effects on cognition: 

  • Memory issues
  • Lack self-confidence
  • Constant worry 
  • Decision-making challenges  

Causes and risk Factors 

Stressful situations may seem unending, and it’s how we choose to respond and treat stress that can determine how we move through life. Many causes make stress worse for people, especially if they have limited access to social support, live with compound stress, have a hard time self-regulating emotions, or lack the confidence to deal with stress.

Most common causes of stress could include: 

  • Work
  • Finances
  • Relationships
  • Parenting 
  • Day to day annoyances 
  • Physical environment 
  • Major life changes 

Support and treatment for stress

Stress diagnosis relies on an individual's subjective experience. Signs and symptoms often play a crucial role in determining if stress is present. Diagnostic tests are usually only given in cases of chronic stress to measure, for example, blood pressure. Classic treatments, like talk therapy and medication, are available, but alternative methods like mindfulness and yoga practices are also available. 

Treatment options could include: 

  • A focus on environmental changes and changing situations
  • Treat symptoms caused by chronic stress 
  • Alternative medications 
  • Psychotherapy 
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
  • Prescribed medication 

Coping methods may include: 

  • Learning to understand signs of burnout 
  • Exercise
  • Self-care 
  • Mindfulness practices  
  • Reduce negativity 
  • Proper sleep 

Prevention recommendations could include: 

  • Avoid alcoholic and drug consumption 
  • Limit caffeine 
  • Avoid cigarettes
  • Acupuncture 
  • Massage
  • Yoga and Meditation  
  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction 
  • Setting clear personal and workplace boundaries

Find support for stress-related mental health concerns with Inkblot Therapy

If you or someone you know has experienced signs and symptoms of stress, know that support is available and accessible and that you are not alone. Inkblot removes barriers to accessing the right support and matches you with qualified mental health practitioners based on your unique needs and preferences. All activity, including confidential video/voice sessions, booking and payment, happens on the Inkblot Therapy platform for convenience and maximum security and confidentiality. Inkblot's unique matching system directs you to a provider selection page where matches will be ranked based on your symptoms, stressors, language, religion and more.

Inkblot Therapy

Tricia-Kay Williams