Understanding Stress: Types, Causes, and Coping Strategies

Understanding Stress: Types, Causes, and Coping Strategies


Imagine an exam is coming up and you wander into a cloud of doubt which convinces you that you are not prepared at all, you begin feeling tense, you feel your throat close up and your mouth is dry as a desert. This is stress. We all have undergone experiences in our lives wherein we may feel stressed or tensed. Stress is a very common part of life that every individual has experienced, especially in the fast-paced times we live in now where we are burdened with so many responsibilities and must learn to balance it all. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has defined stress as “a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation”. Stress is normal in human existence. The National Mental Health Survey reported that 3.5% of the Indian population has projected symptoms associated with stress or anxiety-related disorders. You must’ve gone through moments of stress and most likely you will go through it again. While stress in some amounts is normal and necessary, it is when it gets disruptive in daily life that it becomes an active concern. Key areas covered in this article will be types of stress, possible causes or antecedents, identification of symptoms, and what to do at a professional and personal level. 

Related: Are you in stress? Be aware its physical reactions

Types of Stresses and Stress-Related Disorders 

As mentioned above, essentially, there is a ‘good’ type of stress and a ‘bad’ type of stress. 

  1. Eustress: This is the ‘good’ kind of stress. Do you know the feeling of having butterflies in your stomach? Or the stress that motivates you to actually prepare for an interview or presentation? Eustress is the form of stress which is considered to have positive impacts on our health and motivation in specific.
  2. Distress: This is the ‘bad’ kind of stress in very simple terms. If a person feels distressed more often than not and if this stress is too debilitating for a person, then it can become really harmful. Distress has negative impacts on the individual’s physical and mental health. Distress is the form of stress that is typically the popular usage of the term. There are multiple types of this form of stress as well. These are as follows. 
  3. Acute Stress: The type of stress that follows the occurrence of a traumatic event is known as acute stress. Acute stress may be high in intensity but only lasts for some time. While the time is subjective to each individual, it usually lasts between 3 days to 4 weeks but not more than that. 
  4. Chronic Stress: This is the form of stress that persists for long duration of time, sometimes even lifelong! However, this is curable. If not completely, there are ways to alleviate this form of stress. This will be elaborated on in the further sections. 
  5. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): It is similar to Acute Stress in the way that both of them occur after the individual has undergone some form of traumatic experience. However, PTSD is much more severe and can last for multiple decades, even lifelong if not treated. It involves a bunch of symptoms such as night terrors, flashbacks, unknown triggers and the person may even develop some form of phobia. 

Related: Eustress vs. Distress: The Fine Line Between Motivation and Overwhelm

Causes Of Stress 

Stress, in its biological sense, is when an individual’s body employs the ‘fight or flight’ response when an individual appraises a situation as threatening. As this indicates, stress is not caused by pleasant events, it is caused whenever a person perceives themselves to be in danger. The following are some popular causes of stress.

  • Any traumatic event such as death of a close one, theft, fraud, near-death experience, rape, high-intensity conflict and so on. 
  • Fear or thrilling situations. This has no objective criteria for scary, however, there are things that are universally deemed scary (such as ghosts)
  • Mental pressure. This can be any form of mental pressure such as academic pressure or being overwhelmed by familial responsibilities. 
  • Unprecedented chaos or conflict. Any unfamiliar situation or sudden conflicts can cause extreme states of worry and stress. 
  • Disgruntled work-life balance. People who do not have a proper work-life balance and tend to work long hours are markedly more stressed. 
  • Being paranoid: If someone is an overthinker, especially when it comes to assessing dangerous situations, they would undoubtedly be more stressed than others since they perceive more situations to be threatening. 
  • Overthinking: Overthinking takes you down spirals which get you tangled in your own thoughts. This makes everything a bigger deal than it has to be which leads to more stress sometimes over unnecessary things. 
  • Living in dangerous situations: Women tend to be more stressed than men because due to structural violence, they tend to have more of a target on their backs which makes them more paranoid and therefore more stressed. 
  • Relationship Troubles: If you face troubles or conflicts with your partners on a more regular basis, then it is likely that you tend to be more stressed than others in a relationship. 
  • Sustained pain, illness or injury: Chronic illness also leads to prolonged stress since the individual is constantly preoccupied by the thoughts of their illness.
  • Being the sole caretaker of a severely ill person: Take a look at Deepika Padukone’s character in the movie Piku. Piku is the sole caretaker of her elderly father who has no issue as such but constantly talks about being sick. This is an extremely stressful situation as the viewers can tell in Piku. 

Symptoms Of Stress 

Do you have stress in the current phase of your life? Does someone you know have stress? How to identify if someone in a given circumstance is stressed? These are all questions that will be answered in this section. To aid us with these concerts, we must know the symptoms of stress. These are listed below: 

  • Narrowing of the throat: Stress can make you feel like your throat is closing. There have been reports of people choking on their food because they ate too fast while they were stressed. 
  • Chest Pains: Stress can feel heavy on your heart. You may experience stress pains in your chest. Some people have also compared stress related chest pains to heart attacks. 
  • Headaches: Headaches are a very common symptom of stress. Is there anyone you know who has headaches often? Well, they are probably under a lot of stress.
  • Panic Attacks: Panic attacks deserve an article of its own. Extreme stress can cause severe panic leading to severe chest pains and uncontrollable crying. Panic attacks are a severe and extremely harmful component of extreme stress. 
  • The blurring of thoughts: Individuals under extreme stress may have their minds clouded by thoughts and may lose their train of thought. They may feel as though their mind is completely overwhelmed with an unmanageable number of things to do. 
  • Easily Irritable: If you have ever been stressed regarding deadlines, even the smallest of mistakes may cause you to get irritated much quicker than you would ordinarily.
  • Low on self-esteem: Studies have indicated a reciprocal relationship between low self-esteem and stress. People who do not hold themselves in high regard tend to feel more stressed than those with high self-esteem. Conversely, people with stress tend to have lower self-esteem. 
  • Overwhelmed: When you get stressed, everything around you feels like it is too much. Each sense feels overwhelmed or overburdened. Your emotions can make you feel like you are drowning. 

These are some of the more common symptoms of stress. Once you have identified these, you can look for solutions. We will now see what you can do to help others as well as yourself in stressful situations.

According to Clinical Psychologist, Priyanka, “One significant source of stress is job dissatisfaction. Continuing in a job you’re not satisfied with, either for financial reasons or to advance your career, can be a major stressor. Another factor can be an overwhelming workload that exceeds your capacity. Taking a look at student life today, relationship issues seem to be more prevalent. Early contact and subsequent separations can lead to stress. Infatuations resulting in separations and dealing with multiple partners can also contribute to stress. Repeated rejections can make individuals feel inadequate, affecting their ability to maintain relationships and causing stress. Discussing social media, and watching reels, shots, or videos can become habitual, consuming a significant amount of our time. This can impact our work and time management, further contributing to stress.” 

How to Help Someone Who Is Stressed 

As mentioned above, stress is very common. Leading up to any important activity or event, one may feel stressed. Thus, it is very likely that someone around you has been stressed and will be stressed at some point or another. Ways to do this have been listed below. 

  • Do not say calm down: Whenever we use the phrase ‘calm down’, it is bound to make the person seem more tense because they are suddenly brought to the realization that something they are doing is wrong. 
  • Help them clear out their mind: Just be there and listen. A stressed individual’s mind is flowing with thoughts, you must help them air all that out. 
  • Make sure they know they are fine: Stressed individuals may feel as though they are doing something wrong, you need to slowly and slightly help them understand that they are okay and everything is normal.
  • Give them their space: Stress makes you feel like you are confined in a small space. You must ensure that there are no people all around the stressed person and do not immediately hug them, instead let them come to you. Give them space but be around. 
  • Find their solution: You may help the person find a solution to the issue they’re stressing about calmly. Since stress blurs thoughts, you can help them understand their thoughts and find a solution. 
  • Bust any false beliefs: Stress can give birth to some demotivating and horrible thoughts within the individual about themselves. You must make them believe that these are incorrect and false. 
  • Help them ground themselves: Grounding techniques provide relief in moments when their senses are overwhelmed. You must make them get calmer within their surroundings by grounding them in reality. 

As announced in the aeroplanes, you must help yourself before others. While the above tricks are helpful to help someone who is stressed, you should know how to deal with stress at a personal level as well. The following section can be your guide on that. 

How To Cope With Stress 

A deadline? An interview? An examination? All of these can make you feel stressed. In such situations, you should know what to do and how to cope. We have listed certain tactics which may help you through this. 

Related: 10 Meditation Techniques Everyone can (and should) Explore

  • Grounding Techniques: When you are stressed, your mind takes you to an altered version of reality. You may utilize them to ground yourself within reality. One of the most famous grounding techniques requires you to identify 5 things corresponding to each sense. For example, what are the 5 things you can see, hear, feel and so on?
  • Prioritize: In case of overwhelming thoughts and tasks, you may choose to prioritize them and then go about things. This will help structure your thoughts more thus preventing the tornado of thoughts and panic that stress can create. 
  • Write/Paint/Express: You can choose to get out a diary or a page and then just let out everything in whatever creative way you prefer and are comfortable with.
  • Take a Break! In this fast-paced life, it is essential to take time for yourself lest you will drown in the stress of responsibilities. 
  • Talk to someone: Air out your worries and concerns with a professional or someone you trust. This can alleviate your mood and symptoms. It can also make your mind feel less crowded.

Read more: How to Immediately Get Over a Bad Mood

  • Breathing Exercises: Your breathing pattern gets unregulated when you are stressed so make sure to practice certain breathing exercises which helps regulate your breathing pattern. 
  • Exercise: Exercise has been proven scientifically to reduce stress and alleviate its symptoms. Certain exercises are known to have more fruitful results such as yoga.
  • Avoid stimulants such as coffee or tea: Certain substances such as coffee and tea have been directly linked to increasing stress and anxiety symptoms and thus it is better to avoid them if you get stressed often. 
  • Sleep well: Most of the youth have unhealthy sleeping habits nowadays which only adds to the increased prevalence of stress. Less sleep causes irritability and stress.
  • Eat healthy food. Processed and junk foods tend to heat up our bodies which makes the physical symptoms of stress more evident for the individual.

Read More: 9 Foods that Boost Serotonin

These are certain tips and tricks that can help you cope in moments of stress and anxiety. We do recommend seeing a professional if these symptoms begin occurring too often and if they are much more severe in nature while persisting for more time.

According to Priti Gupta, a Clinical Psychologist and Mental Health expert, “Stress does have an adverse effect of mental health. Chronic stress has been linked to various physical and psychological health issues. Long-term stress can cause mood changes such as irritability, low mood, low tolerance, poor coping skills and decision making. One should keep a check on their stress levels and engage in activities that promote positive mental health such as practising work-life balance, digital detox, meeting up with friends and family regularly, practising meditation and exercise regularly, eating healthy and having an appropriate sleep schedule i.e. getting 7-9 hours of sleep daily.”

Final Comments 

Stress is a topic extremely relevant in today’s day and age. All of us should be more aware of its prevalence and impacts since it affects all of us. Being stressed is not simply being too sensitive or too emotional. It is a real concern and you should feel comfortable raising it. Stress affects each and every one of us so we have to bust any and all stigma around it and be able to speak about it more freely. Moreover, women and youth between 18-24 get stressed out more than others so we must pay heed to such signs. 

We do recommend going to a professional for help if the symptoms you face are too severe, happen too often and proceed for a longer duration of time. Stress can have detrimental impacts on your mental and physical health so it is a matter that must be taken seriously. Moreover, be there for others who face such issues. Help them out and help make people aware of helping strategies in such situations. Stress is normal and we should all pay attention to its signs and coping strategies!

References +
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  • Watson, S. (2022, March 16). Causes of stress. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/balance/causes-of-stress
  • Schneiderman, N., Ironson, G., & Siegel, S. D. (2005). Stress and health: psychological, behavioral, and biological determinants. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1(1), 607–628. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.1.102803.144141 
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  • Tips for Coping with Stress|Publications|Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC. (n.d.). https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/about/copingwith-stresstips.html 
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  • Statista. (2023, November 29). Share of people worldwide with stress, depression, and anxiety in 2022, by age. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1400861/percentage-of-individuals-reporting-symptom s-of-stress-depression-anxiety-by-age-group-worldwide/

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