Learning About Stress

04 June 2024
Από την Ελένη Πανταζάρα, μέλος της Λέσχης Ψυχολογίας και Δρ. Antonia Svensson, Επικεφαλής του Τμήματος Ψυχολογίας
Learning About Stress

What is stress and how can we recognize it?

Stress is the way the body reacts to a challenging or threatening circumstance and occurs especially in situations where change is needed; experiencing stress can occur generally during adrenaline-inducing events. The way people react to and can manage stress can vary depending on both biological – inherent, and psychological elements. 

Stress can be recognised by its symptoms as when experiencing it, muscles get more tense, there is an increase of pulses, and the body is in an alerted state, due to the release of hormones, so that there can be as rapid reaction to the threat. There may also be quicker breathing, improved focus, and increased stamina and strength. Stress can cause the “fight or flight” response, and can also be characterized by irritation, anger, impatience, feeling overwhelmed, and/or nervous. Commonly there is an external trigger of stress, which can last for brief or longer time periods (Kalat, 2019). 

How does it differ from anxiety?

Anxiety, like stress, is an emotional response, and can cause several symptoms that are similar or identical to those of stress, such as issues with concentrating, muscle tension, and irritability. However, anxiety concerns excessive and continuous worries that are present even when there isn’t any stressing factor. It happens typically due to circumstances that cause fear, and nervousness, especially when it is with regard to the future.

Furthermore, unlike anxiety, stress can also be helpful as it can assist in for example meeting a deadline, and avoiding dangers, when anxiety will commonly be something disadvantageous. Moreover, stress can also occur because of excitement, or trying something new, that are pleasant situations (Viveros & Schramm, 2018).

Do we only feel stressed about negative events?

No. Whilst some of the life events that people consistently report as being the most stressful are the ones you might expect, for example, being seriously ill, the breakdown of a serious relationship, losing your home or job, and bereavement. But positive life events, such as becoming a parent, getting married, starting a new job or retiring are also a significant source of stress for a lot of people. This is because, like negative events, happy and exciting events also bring about many changes and create new demands, which can lead to feeling stressed.

What are some positive and healthy ways to cope well with stress?

Social support is a known buffer to stress. Many studies have shown consistently that people who report lower levels of social support report greater levels of stress and more health complaints than those with high levels of social support. Social support can consist of both practical and emotional support, given by a family member, a friend or colleague, or through belonging to a community group or club.

Another buffer to stress is finding positive consequences, even amidst stressful life events such as the chronic burden of caring for a severely autistic child. Research indicates that caregivers who are able to find benefits and positivity in their circumstances report lower levels of stress and less depression (Lovell et al., 2011). Positive Psychology interventions such as regular practice of the Three Good Things exercise, keeping a gratitude journal and learning mindfulness exercises may be particularly helpful for reducing stress and enhancing resilience.

What further help is available?

There are many sources of support available to help you to learn to cope better with stress. The free and publicly available resources of the Greater Good Science Centre of the University of California Berkley, and the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania are a great starting point. Nurturing good relationships with family members and friends, and joining a community or club of likeminded people is also a great way to both give and to receive social support, which as we know is essential for our wellbeing. Seeking out a suitably qualified and experienced mental health professional is advisable if, in addition to stress, you are also experiencing depression and/or anxiety. Seeking professional help could also be a good idea if you have tried self-help techniques and are not seeing much progress.


  • Kalat, J. W. (2019). Biological psychology (13th ed.). Belmont, CA: Cengage.
  • Lovell, B. & Wetherell, M.A. (2011). The cost of caregiving: Endocrine and immune implications in elderly and non-elderly caregivers. Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews, 35, 1342-1352.
  • Viveros, J., & Schramm, D. G. (2018), Stress vs. Anxiety: Understanding the Difference.



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