Stress is a very common symptom of struggling to cope with the demands of a particular situation. It can result from a major event such as a bereavement or losing a job, or it can be a chronic condition caused by arguments and problems at work, for example.

  1. A very common condition that varies in intensity
  2. Often caused by significant life events
  3. Usually treated with relaxation techniques

Stress can make a person feel under pressure, tense and very emotional. It is a normal human reaction to various circumstances that occur throughout life. Most people will be able to manage it, and it will pass in time. However, it can also become a condition which affects a person’s functionality. You can consult one of our UK doctors online via the video consultation if you are suffering from stress.

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What is stress?

Stress is a very common experience of being overwhelmed by an obstacle that you may have to face. It is difficult to measure, but it affects everyone at some point during their lives. Some people can manage stress very well and not be affected by it, while others may find even the smallest changes or situations very difficult to handle.

What causes stress?

Stress is often triggered by events in life that are happening which make you feel uneasy. There are many factors that can lead to it, but typically they're related to big changes, lacking control in a situation, and worrying or feeling burdened.

It is thought that stress has a significant impact on our health, but it is still not fully understood why this is. It is a risk factor for developing heart problems and exacerbating other physical conditions. Stomach ulcers may be strongly associated with high levels of stress (Stress-Induced Gastric Ulceration).

Who gets stress?

There is limited epidemiology for stress in general, as it's an extremely broad condition that is not usually diagnosed. However, there are figures for acute stress disorder (ASD), which is intense short-term stress, usually as a result of a traumatic experience. The DSM-5 (a manual used to diagnose mental disorders) reports that ASD is experienced in up to 50% of traumatic events (assault or rape for example), up to 21% of vehicle accidents and 10% of severe burns.

If stress is severe enough, it may lead to panic, and the ‘fight or flight response’. The central nervous system can respond to environmental triggers by activating hormones such as adrenaline, which may speed up your heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure. This is a natural response to a pressurised situation. However, it can have a negative effect if it becomes overwhelming.

You may find yourself in a position where you are very stressed, and would like somebody to talk to about your symptoms, and how stress is impacting on your life. Our GMC registered doctors can offer you advice on what measures you can take to try and relax, and for more severe cases they can refer you to a specialist for psychotherapy.

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020
Diagnosis and treatment

How does someone know they are stressed?

There are a number of indications which could suggest that a person is stressed: 

  • Struggling to concentrate on anything
  • Smoking and drinking to excess
  • Feeling irritable and tense
  • Not being able to relax
  • Panic-like symptoms

These symptoms usually develop after an extended period of stress, but they can also build up quickly. For example, you may feel stressed during a traffic jam, or after an argument with your partner or boss. 

How is stress diagnosed?

Stress is not an easy condition to diagnose. A doctor will look to rule out the possibility of other conditions, in the event that stress is leading to physical symptoms. 

A clinician will establish your medical history, in order to find out what the internal and external stressors are. Internal stressors are concerns about possible expectations and potentialities, whereas external stressors are causes of stress that stem from our environment, such as trauma or other life experiences.

After a doctor has established what the possible causes of the stress may be, they will seek to evaluate your state of mind. This is important in terms of ascertaining how well you are likely to cope with the stress and what your emotional responses may be.

Does stress require treatment?

Stress is most effectively treated by finding the root cause, but this is not always possible. If stress is causing physical symptoms, a doctor can recommend CBT or anxiety management counselling, although this is rare. 

In most cases, a doctor will recommend a number of lifestyle changes that can help to alleviate stress. This can also play a role in preventing other conditions such as IBS, psoriasis and migraines from developing, which are linked to stress.

What treatments are there for stress?

Treatments for stress are non-pharmacological in almost all cases. Antidepressant SSRIs can be prescribed in rare cases, but they have limited efficacy. 

A doctor will recommend a few activities that you can do to relieve stress. Simple relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and stretching can be helpful. Deep breathing opens the diaphragm and enables the mind to focus exclusively on breathing.

It can also help to assign times in the day when these activities are performed. For example, getting up 15 minutes earlier may give you the opportunity to meditate, or perform the previously mentioned exercises.

In general, exercising regularly has proven to be effective in lowering stress levels, particularly outdoors. An easy way to exercise regularly is taking 30 minutes during a lunch break to walk briskly.

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020
Questions and Answers

What should I do if I think I might be stressed?

If you think you are stressed and have symptoms that clearly indicate this, you should contact your local GP. It is very common to feel stressed about a particular situation, and a doctor will be understanding of your circumstances and be able to offer insight on ways in which you can relax.

Are there side effects of stress treatment?

It is very unlikely that there will be any side effects from treatment for stress, as it does not involve any medication. 

It's possible that in the rare event that you are referred for psychotherapy, talking about the subject that is triggering stress can induce panic, but this is unlikely.

Can I consult a doctor about stress online?

Our UK doctors are available to consult with using our private online video consultation service. Once you have booked an appointment, you will be able to speak to a doctor at a time that best suits you. They can give you advice on how to lower your stress levels, and refer you to a specialist if necessary.

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020

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