Stress Awareness Month: Understanding Stress and Building Resilience

What is stress?

People experience stress as they adjust to a continually changing environment. Stress has physical and emotional effects; it can create both positive and negative feelings. Positive stress can energize you and help you reach your peak performance. However, too much pressure turns into negative stress. Prolonged exposure to stress can be harmful to your physical and mental well-being. One of the first steps to managing stress is to understand what causes it.

Sources of Stress

There is a wide range of sources of stress. These include daily hassles, major life events, home, and work. What are the things in your life that cause you stress?


Stress factors can include

  • Relationships
  • Money problems
  • Children
  • Sickness
  • Housework


Work stress factors include

  • Overload
  • Relationships
  • Pace of change
  • Deadlines
  • Unrealistic workloads or demands

Did you know?

  • Over 80% of the world’s technological advances have occurred since 1900.
  • A newspaper today contains more information than a person would see in his or her lifetime in the 18th century.

Stress Management and Prevention

In addition to managing your response to stress, it is helpful to identify ways to prevent harmful levels of stress and build stress resilience.


  • Look at root causes of stress.
  • Focus on building resilience to stress.

Prevention Ideas

  • Keep a stress log—identify the sources of stress in your life.
  • Identify your signs of stress—be aware of your stress level before it is unmanageable.

Building Stress Resilience

  • Exercise three to four times a week to reduce muscle tension.
  • Minimize intake of sugar, caffeine, and other artificial stimulants.
  • Get enough rest.
  • Practice at least one relaxation exercise.

Stress Signs

Know your stress signs. A second step to managing stress is to understand how you react to it. Which of the following signs of stress do you experience?

Common stress signs include

  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Indigestion
  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Anxiety or excessive worry
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Forgetfulness
  • Irritability
  • Tearfulness
  • Depression
  • Boredom
  • Apathy
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Withdrawal
  • Accident proneness
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Increase in use of drugs, smoking, or alcohol

Some of these signs may have causes other than stress. Check with your doctor if symptoms persist.

Stress Relievers

  • Get up 15 minutes earlier in the morning (making morning mishaps less stressful).
  • Listen to music.
  • Make time for fun.
  • Unplug your phone.

Stress Strategies

Step 1: Awareness

In order to manage stress, it is helpful to understand what causes your stress and how you react to stress. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are the sources of stress in my life?
  • What are my emotional and physical reactions to them?
  • What are my strengths in dealing with stress? (e.g., “I delegate well.”)
  • What are my limitations in dealing with stress? (e.g., “I sometimes have difficulty saying no to work requests.”)

Step 2: Plan

Develop a plan of action by asking yourself these questions:

  • What sources of stress can I eliminate or avoid?
  • What sources of stress are changeable?
  • What one change could I start with that would make the most difference in my life?
  • Who can I enlist in helping or supporting me with this change?
  • How can I include taking care of myself in my plan?

Step 3: Action

Put your plan into action:

  • Choose one new strategy to add to or change about your current strategies for dealing with stress.
  • Practice a relaxation technique (breathing is one of the most effective ways of reducing tension).
  • Identify what you do well at in managing your stress (use your past experience as a resource).
  • Deal with the sources of stress that you can change (create a plan to eliminate, reduce, or avoid these sources).

Stress Tips

  • Share your concerns—talk to someone.
  • Do something you enjoy.
  • Take a brisk walk.
  • Exercise.
  • Take a break.
  • Get a change of scenery.
  • Set aside time for yourself.

Relaxation Technique

  • Find a comfortable place to sit, close your eyes, and begin to pay attention to your breathing.
  • Take a deep breath in, and exhale slowly.
  • Continue breathing deeply, and imagine a relaxing holiday spot.
  • As you continue to breathe slowly, look around at the sights, imagine the sounds, the smells, and the like.
  • See yourself relaxed in this place.
  • As you bring your attention back to the room you are in, remember that you can visit this place again anytime.

Other Ideas

Additional ideas to reduce or combat stress include

  • Counseling
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Hypnosis
  • Biofeedback
  • Relaxation CDs
  • Massage
  • Complementary medicine

Action Planning

  • Set short and long-term goals.
  • Plan to make one change at a time.
  • Check that your goal is specific and measurable.

Workplace Options (WPO). (Reviewed 2021). Understanding stress and building resilience. Raleigh, NC: Author.