What is stress?

We all know what it’s like to feel stressed, but it’s not easy to pin down exactly what stress means. When we say things like “this is stressful” or “I’m stressed”, we might be talking about:

  • Our reaction to being placed under pressure - the feelings we get when we have demands placed on us that we find difficult to cope with.
  • Situations or events that put pressure on us – for example, times where we have lots to do and think about, or don’t have much control over what happens.

We can expierence stress in a number of ways:

  • An individual, for example when you have lots of responsibilities that you are struggling to manage.
  • Part of a group, for example if your family is going through a difficult time, such as bereavement or financial problems.
  • Part of your community, for example if you belong to a religious group that is experiencing discrimination.
  • A member of society, for example during natural disasters or events like the coronavirus pandemic.

Is Stress a Mental Health Problem?

Being under pressure is a normal part of life. It can help you take action, feel more energised and get results. But if you often become overwhelmed by stress, these feelings could start to be a problem for you.

Stress isn’t a psychiatric diagnosis, but it’s closely linked to your mental health in two important ways:

  • Stress can cause mental health problems, and make existing problems worse. For example, if you often struggle to manage feelings of stress, you might develop a mental health problem like anxiety or depression.
  • Mental health problems can cause stress. You might find coping with the day-to-day symptoms of your mental health problem, as well as potentially needing to manage medication, heath care appointments or treatments, can become extra sources of stress.

This can start to feel like a vicious circle, and it might be hard to see where stress ends and your mental health problem begins.

Signs and Symptoms of Stress

Stress can affect our emotions, our body and how we behave, in lots of different ways. Sometimes when we are stressed, we might be able to tell right away. But at other times, we might keep going without recognising the signs.

Physical Signs of Stress
You might find that your first clues about being stressed are physical signs, such as tiredness, headaches or an upset stomach. 

Our body produces hormones in response to stress that can have effects such as:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sweating
  • Muscles Aches
  • Weight loss or Gain

If we experience high levels of stress, these physical effects can get worse. This can also happen if we experience stress for a long period of time.

How Stress Can Make You Feel:

  • Irritable, Angry, Impatient
  • Anxious and Overwhelmed
  • Unable to enjoy yourself
  • Worried or Experience racing thoughts
  • Lonely and Isolated

Some people who go through severe stress may experience suicidal feelings. This can be very distressing.

How can Stress Effect Your Behavior?

  • You may find it hard to make decisions
  • Struggle with your memory
  • Bite your nails, pick your skin, grind your teeth
  • Feel reckless, smoke or use drugs more than you usually would or spend too much money
  • Withdraw from people around you

Causes of Stress

Many things can cause stress. You might feel stressed because of one big event or situation in your life. Or it might be a build-up of lots of smaller things.

You may experience stress if:

  • You feel under a lot of pressure 
  • Are experiencing big life changes
  • Experienceing hate, abuse or discrimination

Why do Certain Things Make me Feel Stressed?

How stressed you feel in different situations may depend on factors like:
  • How comfortable you feel in certain types of situation.
  • What else you are going through at the time.
  • Your past experiences, and how these affect the way you feel about yourself.
  • The resources you have available to you, such as time and money.
  • The amount of support you have from other people.

Some situations that don’t bother you at all might cause someone else a lot of stress. This is because we are all influenced by different experiences. We also have different levels of support and ways of coping.

How to Manage Stress

  • Look after youre wellbeing. E.g. be kind to yourself, find time to relax, spend time in nature with Nature Connecta service that offers nature walks, forest bathing and workshops to connect with nature. 
  • Take care of your physical health with Pace of Mind, a service which offers friendly running and walking groups around Norfolk 
    Build a support network
  • Identify your triggers
  • Organise your time. E.g. set small, achieveable goals, vary your activities, take breaks, ask for help if you need to
  • Take action in your community. E.g. contact community groups or Volunteer for Norfolk and Waveney Mind

Speaking to a GP

Your GP might be helpful to speak to if:

  • You are experiencing a lot of stress.
  • You have felt stressed for a long time.
  • Your feelings of stress are affecting your physical or mental health.

If stress is causing you physical health problems, your GP may run some tests to see how they can help manage the symptoms.


There is no specific medication for stress. But there are medications that can help reduce or manage some of the signs and symptoms of stress. For example, your doctor might offer to prescribe:

  • Sleeping pills or minor tranquillisers, if you’re having trouble sleeping
  • Antidepressants, if you’re experiencing depression or anxiety alongside stress
  • Medication to treat any physical symptoms of stress, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or high blood pressure.


Talking therapy

Talking with a trained professional could help you find ways to deal with stress. And it can help you become more aware of your own thoughts and feelings. Norfolk and Waveney Mind offers access to Low Cost Counselling that can help with this 

You might also find talking therapies helpful if your stress has caused other mental health problems.

Complementary and alternative therapies

You may find certain complementary and alternative therapies helpful in treating signs and symptoms of stress. This may include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy
  • Some herbal remedies and cannabis-based medicines
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Massage
  • Tai Chi
  • Yoga and mediation

You can try some of these therapies on your own. Whereas others are usually done as part of a class or one-to-one session.

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