When does 'stress' become a problem?

Stress is a typical response to an increase in the demands and pressures in our lives.

Although a certain amount of stress can be motivating (e.g. to complete a task or perform well), prolonged and excessive stress can take its toll and impact a person's psychological, social, educational (or occupational) functioning.

It is important to recognise that stress can affect people in different ways and what causes one person to become stressed may not have the same effect on someone else.

Prolonged and/or excessive stress can have a range of consequences for a person's psychological and mental health. These can include:

Psychological

  • Irritability or being quick to anger
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling anxious
  • Moodiness and feeling frustrated by things that wouldn't normally bother you
  • Feeling unhappy or depressed
  • Tearfulness
  • Low self-esteem and/or reduced confidence
  • Indecisiveness

Physical

  • Sleep disturbance (insomnia and hypersomnia) and fatigue
  • Chest pain or pounding heart; high blood pressure
  • Reduced interest in enjoyable activities
  • Muscle tension, body aches and pains
  • Weakened immune system
  • Stomach complaints (nausea, diarrhoea or constipation)
  • Change in appetite
  • Fast, shallow breathing
  • Sweating excessively or clammy skin
  • Dry mouth or difficulty swallowing for no good reason

Excessive and/or prolonged stress can also impact the way a person behaves and functions. Signs that someone may be experiencing 'unhealthy' stress include:

Behaviours

  • Avoiding people or responsibilities
  • Impaired ability to concentrate
  • Reduced motivation
  • Withdrawal from social activities or other enjoyable activities
  • Missing deadlines and not completing tasks
  • Increased use of alcohol or other substances
  • Nervous habits (biting nails, grinding teeth, hand wringing)
Without recognition and appropriate management, experiences of prolonged and/or excessive stress place a person at increased risk for developing depression, anxiety and substance abuse problems.