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What is stress?

Stress is commonplace in modern life and the term is used frequently to describe many different situations. Stress, is however, a natural response to a threat and has an evolutionary purpose linked to survival.  Stress is a physiological response to danger, known as the ‘fight or flight’ response in humans. It can be acute, for example, meeting a shark in the ocean or prolonged or chronic, for example dealing with the relentless fluctuations and uncertainty of living with CF. When stress is prolonged or chronic and becomes cumulative, meaning multiple factors start to exceed our coping strategies, it impacts our body’s ability to function properly. As a result, we feel overwhelmed and burned out.

Common symptoms of stress

Physiologically, our bodies respond to a stressful event by releasing adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones increase our heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. Breathing and metabolism speed up and our pupils dilate. These changes help us to react quickly and efficiently in a stressful situation, so they are all signs of acute stress. These hormones are designed to be used in short, acute bursts, not in an ongoing or chronic state.

Chronic stress can present as

Physical symptoms

Such as heart palpitations, fatigue, sleep disturbance, insomnia, stomach upset, diarrhea, frequent headaches, muscular aches and pains, weakened immune system, high blood pressure

Psychological symptoms

Such as worry, fear, anger, tearfulness, irritability, helplessness, difficulties with concentration or memory, or feeling overwhelmed.

Treating stress

Stress can be treated in a number of ways using different management techniques and/or speaking to a professional such as a psychologist. Management techniques broadly include addressing unhelpful thinking, improving communication skills, time management skills and self-talk, as well as implementing relaxation-based approaches. Helpful strategies include:

Using positive self-talk 

Stress can promote negative self-talk like “I can’t cope, I’m too busy, or I’m sick of this”. Negative self-talk can make it harder to deal with stress. Work on using positive talk like “I’m actually coping pretty well considering the circumstances I’m in” or “Relax, this is a just roadblock, I can work around this with some thought”

Keeping perspective

Stress can make situations seem worse than they are. Rather than imagining the worst-case scenario, ask yourself:

  • am I overestimating how bad the consequences will be?
  • am I overestimating the likelihood of a negative result?
  • am I underestimating my ability to cope?


If you have a stressful situation coming up, prepare for it. Look up ways to develop the skills you need to tackle the situation and rehearse them before the day


 Meditation and relaxation techniques are proven to help reduce stress by allowing the nervous system and body to resettle into a calm state

A true fact! Public speakers and military personnel are all trained to box breathe, which helps calm the body before and during stressful situations

Four breathes in, hold for four, out for four, hold for four and repeat. 

Managing your time 

Research indicates being organised can decrease stress, increase life satisfaction and improve health. Download our Time Management Factsheet. 

Creating balance

Is there one area of your life that’s taking up too much time and impacting others? Make time to ensure you have a balance between work, play, and time out