What is stress?

Stress is part of life, and increasing so in 21st century living. Life has ‘ups and downs’ and we hear the words – stress, stressed out, stressful, stressy – almost daily.

Yet, what does it mean exactly? Some claim they thrive on stress yet, for others, it’s a very different experience. Does everyone get stressed? Is someone’s stress, another’s pressure? How is it experienced?

Can you relate to any of these examples?

  • Your fitness training learning isn’t going well. You’re struggling to pinpoint why. Finding ways, ideas to grasp techniques is becoming stressful.
  • Stepping up to a top-level dance class is challenging. Are you experiencing stress or pressure about learning new movements? And, what to do about it?
  • You started extra singing lessons but there’s more to it than you thought! You start feeling downhearted, start comparing yourself to others and feel stressed you’re ‘not good enough’.
  • Spiteful criticism you’re getting on social media is stressing you out.
  • You’re getting stress about a particularly challenging beauty assessment coming up.
  • You have ADHD and a certain situation triggers you.
  • You’re struggling with the biology learning in beauty classes.
  • Stressful stuff is happening in your personal life. It starts affecting you at college.

Stress can affect the mind and body in many ways, and everyone experiences stress differently. Plus, we can all have ‘one of those days’, although pay attention if they continue or become the norm. Exploring the Self- Help Zone Courageous Conversations might be helpful.

What do you know about stress? Check out these FAQ’s to discover more:


Stress is a burst of energy that basically advises us what to do. A trigger for ‘what happens next’; our vital, early warning system producing the fight, flight or freeze response.

When the brain perceives some kind of stress, it starts flooding the body with chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol – the stress hormone – to prepare our
body to respond.

This creates a variety of reactions such as increased heart rate, shortness of breath, upset tummy, sweating, tingling, muscle tension, trembling, shaking, and invisible high blood pressure all in readiness for our response.

The senses suddenly have a laser-like focus too, alerting you what to do next. Often an automatic, visceral reaction to protect you from whatever your brain perceives as stressful. eg. heavy workload, lots of parts to learn, assessments, exams, clients, negative social media comments.

Or perhaps managing an ongoing personal crisis, or avoiding/managing physically stressful situations, or you’ve a stressful home life.

No. It isn’t. However, stress is a primary contributor to poor or deteriorating mental health via state of mind and physiology changes.

If a person regularly feels disproportionate or excessive levels of stress, and that will depend on the individual, it can lead to, or contribute to poor mental health and possibly clinical mental health disorder diagnosis. Eg PTSD, depression, anxiety.

Stress can affect our physical health too which we may, or may not, be aware of. As physical and mental health co-exist, stress can affect our mental health that way too

While stress affects everyone in different ways, there are two major types of stress:

Good stress – which is rarely mentioned – is stress that’s beneficial and motivating.

Bad stress – the one that’s constantly mentioned – is stress that affects our ability to cope, causes anxiety and even health problems.

In small doses, yes, stress has many benefits. It’s a natural feeling, designed to help you cope in challenging situations so in small amounts it can push you to work hard and do your best, such as during exams.

It can be a trigger, your warning sign(s) to do something, to take action. For instance, you might notice that sometimes being ‘stressed-out’ motivates you to focus intently on getting things done, known as ‘being energised by a deadline’. eg. getting your work in on time; keeping up with your homework.

It can help meet daily challenges eg. motivate handing work in before deadlines; managing daily workload; making sure you arrive on time.

Generally speaking, it occurs when the brain perceives some kind of stress, hence why this will be different for everyone.  Stress is often emotionally experienced too particularly when there’s a sense of loss or lack of control and/or choice; when things happen to us, are happening beyond our control, skills or ability.

It could be an adverse or demanding situation, such as an accident, someone’s taken ill, an argument, someone has a panic attack, having a ‘difficult’ conversation.

Plus, more often than not, some sort of fear is involved. Fears around safety, getting hurt (emotionally as well as physically) or worse. Also, fear of failing, hurting others’ feelings, people laughing at us. Coming last, coming first, being good at what we do, or not good enough. When we think/feel we’re not coping, have too much to do. Not knowing how or what to do, and the unknown itself. So many things can be fearful.

This will be different for everyone, whether good or bad stress.

How we recognise/experience bad stress is often difficult to articulate, express or describe. However, we will have a sense of it; we will feel it. If we’re honest with ourselves, we will know often through physical and behavioural changes which is why spotting our personal clues and cues and cues is so important. This will also enable us to differentiate between stress and pressure.

Thoughts and self-talk such as “I can’t cope” or “I don’t know which way to turn” and sensations such as “I feel wired”, “I feel like I’m on a train going 100 mph but cannot stop or get off”, “everything is going at high speed” are clues. Watch out too for unusually abrupt verbal responses, a sharp tone of voice as these can be misconstrued by others, and by you of others.

Stress in school

If you’re feeling very stressed or cannot manage stress, it can lead to poor mental health such as depression and anxiety. It can also affect your academic performance. Signs you might be stressed include:

  • irritability.
  • anxiousness.
  • you cannot enjoy yourself.
  • worrying lot of the time.

You may start to:

When it starts to have a detrimental effect on us, and that will depend on the individual.

Short periods (again, dependent on the individual and circumstances) can be manageable. e.g learning setbacks, tough assignments and assessments, a disappointing weekend, unexpected busyness getting in the way of having fun.

Too much, especially over a long period of time, can cause physiological and emotional issues. It can affect our well-being, friendships, relationships, our work, our performance and ability to manage. It can affect physical health too, which we may or may not be aware of.

Ah, difficult to answer this one!… There’s a fine line between all these, and we can experience more than one at any time. eg. our first show; first salon session; first time on a new piece of fitness equipment; being picked to demonstrate something.  We could experience all four at once! Or we can be nervouscited – where we’re nervous and excited at the same time!

However, raising your self-awareness will enable you to decipher what’s going on for you.

Top Tips for stress prevention, avoidance, reduction, management.

1. Raise your self-awareness.

  • How do you know you’re stressed. How do you experience it? Pay attention to your signs as they’re indicators, cues, triggers for action.
  • Work out what’s making you feel stressed. For example, is it exams, money or relationship problems? A particular activity, subject, a certain situation? Family, friend, social, work/college related?
  • See if you can change your circumstances to ease the pressure, you’re under.

2. Think about it differently:

  • Rather than foe, it can be your friend! – it’s a trigger, a warning, telling you to do something!
  • Accept it’s part of life. Everyone experiences [bad] stress from time to time. Just because you might not ‘see’ it or others don’t appear to ‘show’ it, doesn’t mean they don’t experience it!
  • Stress isn’t always negative. A certain level can help prepare for actions and challenges, and ‘good’ stress can:
  • Drive/motivate success by doing something different, making changes.
  • Sharpen focus.
  • Develop prioritisation and time management skills.
  • Give direction.

3. Manage it differently.

This has happened, what can I do about it’ approach. Is a conversation needed? Would I like help? What changes/actions can I make?


  • Try to have a healthy lifestyle. Eat well, get enough sleep, be physically active, cut down on alcohol, and take time to relax as well as working and studying.
  • Avoid drugs, including lots of caffeine – this can have a negative impact on your stress levels and wellbeing.
  • Try not to worry about the future or compare yourself to others. Focus on the present.
  • Try relaxation and breathing exercises.
  • Plan your time to help you keep track of your work. Break it down into manageable chunks so you can keep up with deadlines.
  • Talk to a friend, tutor or someone in your family about your stress.


Mauve is a performing arts learner who finds ballet stressful. Five top tips are:

Identify and recognise your indicators. Mine are raised heart rate, shallow breathing, tingling hands, dry mouth, snappy with others.

Prepare well in advance to avoid getting stressed in first place. Work out your preparation plan, what works for you. Mine’s making sure I’ve the right …., focusing, being present, and doing a breathing exercise. I’m then in the right frame of mind.

Breathe There are others, but the 4-4-4 technique works for me. Control the controllables.

Control the things you can i.e yourself, your behaviour, reactions, thoughts, preparations etc etc rather than trying to control the things you can’t. I know I cannot control everything, but I’m as well prepped as I can be.

Focus on what you can do, what you are doing. Once in the class, I’m ‘in the zone’.


River is a fitness learner. Becoming a PT is a dream job, but is getting stressed as didn’t realise how much is/was involved! Five top tips:

Recognise your triggers. In my case, I felt out of my depth, anxious, and worried about not passing assessments and exams. I had sleepless nights.

Manage your pressures; make some changes. In my case, I found ‘one of those days’ and ‘confidence matters’ section on RTA’s website. I took action, made some changes, spoke up and my stress levels started going down.

Control and choice. Put yourself back in control; decide what you need to do. Avoid getting stuck! Making changes was hard work though!

Focus on what you can do, what you can change. I shifted from lacking confidence to gaining it.

‘Take 5 minutes’ during the day. Mine’s a chat with another learner over a fruit juice!


Jordan is a beauty learner and suffers with severe anxiety and finds the journey to college very stressful. Five top tips:

Recognise when I’m getting stressed. For me, that’s shortness of breath, tingling scalp, butterflies in tummy, feeling ‘wired’!

Breathe! I do really slow deep breathing, in for same count as out, until I feel calm. I close my eyes too. I often do this as I leave home in preparation.

Focus on what you can do, what you can change. I shifted from the anxiety and stress controlling me, to me controlling my anxiety and stress via my breathing.

Control .. my breathing! and my focus on getting to college as I want to qualify as a beauty therapist and have my own business!