Stress is an expected human response to challenging or dangerous situations. There is good evidence that humans have evolved over time to be able to experience a range of stressors and recover from them.
Experiencing stress is part of being alive. A small amount of stress, such meeting a challenge or deadline can actually be helpful. It can lead to increased alertness, energy and productivity. A complete lack of stress can lead to reduced motivation and performance.
Stress triggers off the 'fight or flight' response, preparing the body to take action against potential danger. Hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released, causing the heart rate, metabolism and breathing rate to speed up.
This works well for short-term threats but if the stress response goes on for too long, it can have damaging effects on the mind and body.
Stress can be caused by our circumstances or by our own attitudes and expectations. In today's world, some people seem to thrive on stress but many others report high levels of stress with negative effects on their health.
If stress is greater than our ability to cope, it can lead to physical and mental health issues and cause problems with relationships and work.
There are many different ways to manage stress, including identifying your triggers, relaxation techniques, lifestyle changes and seeking support from others. If you are feeling overwhelmed by stress and unable to cope, seek advice from a counsellor or health professional.
Not sure what to do next?
If you or someone you know are finding it difficult to manage mental health issues, try healthdirect’s symptom checker and get advice on when to seek professional help.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Last reviewed: August 2015