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The HSE defines stress as, "the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them." And the Oxford dictionary defines stress as, "a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances." Useful stress can help to boost memory and can motivate individuals to achieve their goals and solve challenges. It allows focus on your senses and it heightens alertness. Harmful stress is detrimental and needs to be addressed, whether this is self-managed or with support from others.

There are many different causes of stress, both in and out of the workplace. As we have said, these can be useful or harmful, and it's important to be able to identify, discuss and manage, not only the stress you may be experiencing yourself but also to help family, friends and colleagues. A person becomes stressed when they are finding it difficult to cope with challenges and when they feel that there is a threat to their well-being. The fact that the threat may be real or perceived makes no difference. The stress response would be the same in both situations.

There are different types of stress. The most usual is acute stress. And this happens when our body has an immediate reaction to a new challenge, event or demand. This could be triggered by a tight work deadline, an accident, or near miss, or bad argument. This type of stress usually subsides when the situation are resolved or the person is removed from the threat. Another type is episodic acute stress, which happens frequently to people who always feel that they are under pressure or hurried. They often live their lives in a state of chaos or crisis. And this type of stress can lead to other health issues including high blood pressure, heart disease or digestive problems.

Chronic stress can result in significant damage to physical and mental health if it's left untreated over a long period. A person may have chronic stress because they are in an unhappy situation and they cannot see a way out of it. It may be because of financial problems, an unhappy marriage or abuse. Chronic stress poses a very serious risk to health and life. Stress can affect your physical and mental health and behaviour. The body responds to stress by producing chemicals and hormones in an attempt to combat it. Heart rate increases, your brain works faster and you have a sudden burst of energy. This is often known as the fight or flight response. This response is basic and natural, and it is what has kept early humans from falling victims to hungry predators. Yet too much stress can have harmful effects.

It is not possible to completely eliminate all forms of stress from your life, but you can learn to avoid and manage them. While stress itself is not deemed to be a mental illness, it may develop into anxiety and other types of mental ill health.