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Stress can often be described as a feeling of strain and pressure. Stress can be helpful, it helps motivate us, encourages us to react and adapt to our situation, and can improve performance. However, too much stress can be detrimental, leading to decreased performance, and difficulties with memory and problem solving. This may also contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression. Excessive amounts of stress may also lead to bodily harm, for instance, increasing the risk of strokes, heart attacks, and ulcers.

Stress may be caused by events external to ourselves, such as work, relationships, or chronic illness. However, stress may also come from the inside, whether it is due to feelings of uncertainty, holding unrealistic expectations, major life changes, or how we view the world. We experience stress when we feel our resources are insufficient for the obstacles we face. When we think the demands placed upon us exceed our ability to cope, then we perceive stress.

Some Common Causes of Stress

  • Having too many responsibilities
  • Vague or confusing expectations
  • Having to do unpleasant tasks
  • Facing too many distractions
  • Having to do tasks for which one is unprepared
  • Working with difficult people
  • Being bored
  • Being sick
  • Experiencing too many changes
  • Being in physical danger
  • Living or working in a crowded space
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • Poor nutrition
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Not getting enough time to relax
  • Being dissatisfied with your physical appearance
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol, or being close to someone who abuses the


    Individuals who seek psychological help for stress often want help in order to:

  • Identify the causes of their stress
  • Improve their coping strategies for dealing with stress
  • Identify and engage with social supports
  • Reduce the amount of stress they experience by learning relaxation and mindfulness techniques
  • Self care

    • Identify the sources of stress in your relationships: Write about them in a journal. Make a list of people who cause you stress and explore what the issues are. From each of the situations identified in your journal, assess what needs to happen to resolve it. Make a list and design a plan to improve the situation.

    • Watch what you eat: Some substances amplify the stress response, including caffeine, refined sugar, too much salt, smoking, and alcohol. During times of high stress, eat more complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, whole breads, cereals, and beans).

    • Get moving: The human body is designed to be physically active. However, without the need to hunt for our food, we are living increasingly sedentary lives. Exercise is one of the simplest and most effective ways to respond to stress. Activity provides a natural release for the body during its fight-or-flight state of arousal.
    • Sit back and relax: Meditation breath and progressive muscle relaxation are valuable ways to regenerate and refresh yourself. You can purchase meditation and relaxation audiotapes, record your own (, or find others on YouTube.

    • Improve your sleep: set up a “worry chair” for earlier in the day. Process, plan, find solutions then put the stressors aside and have a worry free zone. Try using mindfulness and relaxation strategies regularly, exercise consistently, watch what you eat, reduce your alcohol consumption and reduce all stimulants (caffeine and nicotine), reduce “screen time” before bed. “Bore your brain” in bed by focusing on a dot above your head and count from 1-20 . Close your eyes but still imagine that dot. Every time you move or get distracted go back to 1. Repeat.

    Psychotherapeutic Interventions

      There are many different approaches to treating stress. These include:

    • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
    • Acceptance Commitment Therapy
    • Mindfulness
    • Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy
    • Solution Focused Brief Therapy