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During LIfeline’s Stress Down Day- Friday 22nd July 2016 

By Rhonda Stanton, Clinical Psychologist Registrar

The human species has evolved since prehistoric times and one system that has enabled this is the fight or flight response. In times of stress or danger, this inbuilt alarm system is triggered which releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin within our body. This prepares our body to respond to the situation by either running away (flight) or if this is not possible to stay and defend ourself (fight). Today, many of our modern day stressors are psychological in origin and are often chronic, lasting from weeks to years.
What is stress?
Stress is a reaction to the demands of life. It refers to the physical, mental and emotional reactions of people when the demands of a situation are perceived to outweigh a person’s ability to cope and/or their resources. As well as having an effect on our body, stress also affects our thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
What causes stress?
Stress can be triggered by environmental stressors ie external pressures that occur from sources outside of ourself. Examples include high workloads, the death of friend or financial problems. Other stressors are internal to our self and about how a person responds to situations in their life. Examples include thoughts such as “I can’t cope” or “”Can’t they see I’m busy”.
It is important to note that triggers can be both positive and negative. Getting married, having a baby, or starting a new job are usually experienced as positive whereas experiencing financial problems or work stress would be considered negative. Both types of triggers can be experienced as stressful.
How to recognize stress
Recognising stress can be difficult because it often sneaks up on us. Although there are many symptoms of stress, how it manifests is individual. Some people become irritable and for others muscle pain is the first sign. Stress can be recognized across four areas – physical, thinking, feeling and behaviours. By learning your unique stress symptoms, you can intervene earlier.

Physical Thinking Feeling Behaviour
Headaches Forgetfulness Irritable Difficulty sleeping
Muscle stiffness Difficulty concentrating Hopeless Procrastinating
Tight chest “I can’t do this…it’s too much” Numb Increased smoking/alcohol use
Nausea “I don’t have time” On edge Clenching jaw
Weight gain/loss “I should be able to sort this out” Stressed Snapping at people
Tiredness “Do I have to do everything around here?” Desperate Staying in bed
Skin conditions “I don’t want to talk to anyone” Vulnerable Avoiding people

When does stress become problematic?
Short periods of stress or low level stress are unlikely to lead to harm. Some stress helps to motivate us and achieve goals. However, when stressful situations continue the body is kept in a constant state of arousal which can lead to a range of negative consequences for physical health and also for our mental health and wellbeing.
What can you do?
There are a number of things that can reduce life stress. Learning how to respond differently to stressful situations, taking time to relax, adding some physical activity and eating well, and having some fun are helpful strategies.
Other strategies include time management and improving communication skills.
If you think you may need additional help to manage life stress, ask your GP about a Mental Health Care Plan and referral to a psychologist. This provides a Medicare rebate for psychological treatment. Alternatively, you can make an appointment directly with Psychology Consultants as a private client.