What is stress?

Stress: we’ve all experienced periods of stress in our lives, sometimes very strongly and other times not so much! Stress is a basic feature of all bodily systems; it’s the body’s reaction to feeling threatened and it is the underlying factor that triggers our ‘fight or flight’ response resulting in the release of hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol to prepare the body for physical action [1]. Stress can originate from a whole host of different sources including financial worries, family, and personal-life situations as well as work and societal pressures.

Some stress can be beneficial, motivating or even healthy. The downside to this is that too much stress can cause changes to our body, mood, and behaviours. Stress can lead to exhaustion and cognitive impairment that affects both our attention and working memory [2]. Research has shown that stress can affect memory formation and learning under stress can reduce active recall and recognition of information [3]. Long-term stress can make us feel depressed and anxious as well as lead to physical illness and sometimes even life-threatening complications [4].

Too much stress can ultimately lead to burnout therefore it’s important to be able to recognise the warning signs and intervene where possible. Here are some warning signs you can look out for:

Source: [5]

Some stress statistics

Stress has a larger impact on our society than many might think with stress and poor mental health being one of the biggest public health challenges that society is facing today. Some interesting stress stats are detailed below:

  • The most common cause of stress is work-related stress with 79% of individuals saying they frequently felt it [6]
  • 74% of people feel so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope [7]
  • Inpatient hospital admissions caused by stress-related illnesses in the UK cost around £8.13 billion [6]
  • 46% say that they eat too much or too unhealthily due to stress [7]

When many of us think of stress, we think of the workplace. A recent Workplace Health Report 2023 revealed an up-to-date view of the impact and prevalence of stress on UK employees. The results were as follows:

  • 76% of employees reported moderate-to-high or high levels of stress [8]
  • The top cause of work-related stress was workload (73%) [8]
  • 13.7 million working days are lost each year in the UK because of work-related stress, anxiety and depression, costing £28.3 billion yearly [8]

Figure: The percentage of employees experiencing moderate-to-high work stress in 2022 and 2023 (Source: The Workplace Health Report 2023 [8])

Despite these reported high levels of stress, 54% of individuals agreed that the perfect amount of stress enabled them to thrive [8].

How can we manage stress?

Having touched on how stress and long-term stress can affect our physical and mental wellbeing it’s important to be able to manage and take control of our stress and avoid stressful situations. Some top tips and links to help you manage your personal and work stress include:

  1. Having a positive attitude: Write down 3 things that went well, or for which you are grateful for at the end of each day
  2. Taking controlGet tips on how to manage your time
  3. Connecting with people and helping others: Read about the 5 steps to mental wellbeing
  4. Having some ’me time’: Take time for socialising, relaxation, or exercise
  5. Challenging yourself: Set yourself goals and challenges such as learning a new language or sport
  6. Being activeGet started with exercise
  7. Avoiding unhealthy habits: Don’t rely on alcohol, smoking and caffeine as a way of coping. Try to get at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night
  8. Working smarter, not harder: Prioritise your work, concentrating on tasks that’ll make a real difference. Leave the least important tasks until last
  9. Accepting the things you cannot change:  Changing a difficult situation isn’t always possible. Try to concentrate on the things you do have control over

Source: [9]

Take the Individual Stress Test below to see your personalised stress score and further recommendations for managing stress:

Source: [1]

What else can you do for Stress Awareness Month?

We can all promote stress awareness by:

  • Working together to reduce the stigma associated with stress – talk about the topic openly and freely with friends, family, and colleagues
  • Sharing your coping mechanisms – if something has worked for you why not share it with others? It might benefit someone you care about and in the meantime, it might help you take your focus off your own challenges
  • Being accepting to those who are stressed and anxious – we are all undoubtedly going to experience stress and anxiety in our lifetime so treat others going through it with compassion and empathy. Talking about stress can help a person to start breaking the challenge into smaller parts, which can help avoid overwhelm and burnout!

The most crucial thing you can do when you are stressed or anxious is to make sure you are continuing to look after yourself, promoting self-care, and reaching out to others when needed.

Here are some further helpful links on how you can plan ahead and manage stress:


  1. Society, S.M. What is Stress? 2023; Available from: https://www.stress.org.uk/what-is-stress/.
  2. Scott, E. How Stress Works With and Agaist Your Memory. 2021; Available from: https://www.verywellmind.com/stress-and-your-memory-4158323#:~:text=There%20is%20ample%20evidence%20that%20stress%20affects%20memory%2C,effects%20of%20stress%20on%20memory.%20…%20More%20items.
  3. Schwabe, L. and O.T. Wolf, Learning under stress impairs memory formation. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 2010. 93(2): p. 183-188.
  4. Yaribeygi, H., et al., The impact of stress on body function: A review. Excli j, 2017. 16: p. 1057-1072.
  5. Canva. Stress Burnout. 2023; Available from: https://www.canva.com/p/templates/EAFBJO_eBPQ-signs-of-burnout-instagram-post/.
  6. Statista. Most common types of stress experienced in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2020. 2020; Available from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1134359/common-types-of-stress-in-the-uk/.
  7. statistics, S. Results of the Mental Health Foundation’s 2018 study. 2018; Available from: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/mental-health-statistics/stress-statistics.
  8. Health, C. Stress Statistics UK: 2023. 2023; Available from: https://championhealth.co.uk/insights/stress-statistics/#:~:text=The%20most%20common%20cause%20of%20stress%20is%20work-related,young%20adults%20%28%20Mental%20Health%20Foundation%20and%20YouGov%29.
  9. NHS. 10 Stress Busters. 2022; Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/self-help/guides-tools-and-activities/tips-to-reduce-stress/

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