Why Do We Feel Stressed?

Stress is inevitable at points throughout our lives. But why do we feel stressed? It’s important to understand what is actually going on inside your body when it happens.
Sometimes just realising “I’m stressed” and understanding what is happening is enough to make it feel less bad and help you power through. We’ve consulted students, graduates, life coaches, youth counsellors, and more, to find you the best tips to understand why you feel stressed and how you can overcome it…


1. Stress is not all bad!

A small dose of stress can actually be helpful – that adrenaline rush when you transform from a LastMinuteDotCommer into a JustinTimer…
Temporary acute stress is our natural ‘fight or flight’ survival reaction to new, unpredictable situations, which might be out of our control or threaten our competency e.g. exams, public speaking, interviews. Those familiar physical symptoms like butterflies, sweaty palms and racing heart are actually positive signs that your body is releasing a flood of stress hormones, to prepare you for peak performance in the challenge ahead. So, go with that pumped up feeling – it’s going to help you nail that exam, beat your deadline, crack your presentation…
Our bodies are pretty amazing, think of all the exams, adventures and more, where your body has supported you.


Stress Relief

We find getting outside and enjoying nature to be a great stress reliever


2. Recognise when it’s getting out of control

At times, stress can feel completely overwhelming e.g. if you’re in a situation where you are unhappy with your course, you have fallen behind with work, can’t get motivated and are constantly worrying about it. This is chronic stress – prolonged or over-exposure to triggers, meaning we produce too many stress hormones, which can have a negative impact on our mind and body. If you feel like this, then do talk things through with someone you trust, or seek some professional help – click here for more.
For more info on recognising good or bad stress, click here.
If you’re feeling stressed right now, here are two things you can do to immediately alleviate symptoms.



3. Breathe…

You probably rarely even think about it, but focusing on your breathing for a few minutes a day can benefit both emotional and physical health – lowering stress levels and helping your body to rest, digest and relax.
Simply take a few deep breaths. It works wonders if you’re feeling panicky. Stress responses like a racing heart, fast shallow breaths and high blood pressure all decrease when you breathe deeply: try 3 deep breaths, in and out. Breathe in as much as you can, then breathe in again until you’re about to burst… then control the breath out, slowly and as far as you can. And repeat. This allows your lungs to fill up with as much air as possible and therefore you breathe out entirely, which makes your whole body relax.
Mindfulness is a great practice to get into. It’s a simple way to calm the mind, it’s essentially breathing as explained above, but being aware of each breath, your entire body and switching off to everything else going on. You can do it anywhere, anytime and nobody has to know. We use Headspace app, described as ‘a gym membership for the mind’, you can sign up for free and try it out.



4. Sleep deprived?

‘I never sleep before exams…’. Although one of the best things you can do to feel fresh, is get a good night’s sleep, if you haven’t slept well before an important event like an exam, because of anxiety and adrenaline, don’t panic. We’ve all survived the day after an all-nighter, so we know we can do it! Click here for tips to power through on little or no sleep.


Remember how resilient and brilliant your body and mind can be, recognise those nervous feelings as a good sign – stress hormones preparing you to perform at your best during the challenge ahead.



For more on stress, here’s our three-part Stress Survival Guide:

Stress Survival Guide: Part 1 – Good Stress, Bad Stress
What are the different types of stress and how can we recognise the signs & symptoms
Stress Survival Guide: Part 2 – Get the Best out of Stress
Not all stress is bad. It’s about how we see it and use it to our advantage
Stress Survival Guide: Part 3 – Stress Busters
Coping mechanisms to effectively manage stress


For more on sleep:

Powering Through on Little Sleep
Top tips for getting yourself up, out and being switched on, having had little sleep


If you think you need professional help:

Professional Help
If things feel overwhelming and you think you need some professional help
Grad Bites: Introducing CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably)
Rikesh Chauhan (RKZ) talks about the mental health charity and his work as an ambassador