The International Stress Management AssociationUK

Stress FAQs

  • What is Stress?

    Perhaps the first thing to say is that, unlike pressure, stress is never good for you and never a positive thing. Stress creates unhealthy biological reactions in the body, and prolonged stress can lead to both physical and mental ill health.

    There are many definitions of stress; however the one that ISMAUK and our members use is the one from the HSE (1999)

    The HSE defines stress as:
    "the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed upon them at work"

    Raymond & Wilson define stress as:
    "a mental and/or physical response, by an individual, to an inappropriate level of pressure whether real or perceived".

    Lazarus defines stress as:
    "a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that the demands placed on them exceed the resources the individual has available".

    It is interesting to note that the excessive pressure can be real or ‘perceived’. 
    If it’s what you think … then the body will respond accordingly. 

    This is known as the ‘Fight of Flight’ or the ‘Stress’ response to an acute stressful situation. When the situation goes away and you calm down, the body returns to normal in about 20-30 minutes, but if this is repeated, often and over a prolonged period of time, then chronic stress and ill health can be the outcome.

    For more information click here for our Free Download: What is the Fight and Flight Response?

  • What is the Difference between Stress and Pressure?

    Based on Lazarus's definition, while you have, or perceive you have the ability and resources both from within yourself and support from around you, to cope with the demands placed on you, you are subject to pressure and not stress.

    This may explain the confusion of why so many people talk of positive stress, when really they mean positive pressure. It is when pressure becomes excessive, beyond the individuals coping ability that it leads to changes in the body and stress.

    Stress is neither good nor positive; no stress is good for you … not even a little bit!
    There is no ‘good stress / bad stress’.

    The examples given below help clarify the difference:


    • Motivating
    • Exciting
    • Gives a zest for life
    • Increases performance
    • Driven to achieve success
    • Boosts inner potential
    • Creatively helpful
    • Challenging


    • Headaches/migraine
    • Muscle tension
    • Backache
    • Poor sleep/insomnia
    • Indigestion
    • Irritability/mood swings
    • High blood pressure
    • Anxiety/depression

    To find one of our Stress Management Consultants who can help and advise you on stress and positive approaches to managing stress in the workplace: Click Here

  • What is the Fight or Flight Response?

    The fight or flight response, or stress response, is triggered by a release of hormones either prompting us to stay and fight or run away and escape. So the ‘fight’ could be getting angry and shouting and the ‘flight’ could be storming out of a room and maybe saying nothing. These types of responses are your body’s reaction to danger and were created during evolution to help you survive real stressful and life-threating situations.

    Now, in today’s world, your body still has the fight or flight response but the ‘dangers’ that trigger it are frequently not life threatening situations – but caused by merely just thinking negatively about something, such as:

    • Giving a big presentation
    • Being stuck in traffic making you late for work or a meeting
    • Trying to make a deadline at work / working overtime
    • A meeting with the boss
    • Confronting a fear or phobia
    • Disagreements at work/office politics
    • Worry about losing your job
    • Constant changes at work/being asked to do things you can’t or don’t want to do
    • Financial or relationship problems

    All these examples of commonplace situations that you could find yourself in, are not truly dangerous, however you will still send a ‘danger’ message to the brain with your negative ‘oh no’ thoughts … but it’s a false message! Your stress response is triggered and your body reacts as if it was dangerous or life threatening, because the brain does NOT differentiate between real and perceived threats. This response is there to save your life and the brain will not take a risk, so it launches the stress response every time … just in case!

    The stress response can be triggered in a single instant, but how quickly you calm down and return to your natural state is going to vary from person to person (and on what caused it). Typically it takes 20 to 30 minutes for your body to return to normal and to calm down.

    That’s ok if this response is a one off or just an occasional occurrence (acute), your body has time to recover and return to its normal state.  However, if you repeatedly trigger the stress response with on-going problems and negative thoughts, then your body has very little chance to recover.  Living in a prolonged state of high alert and stress (when there isn’t any real reason for it) can be the start of chronic stress and can be detrimental to both your physical and mental health.

    During the fight or flight response your body is trying to prioritise what it needs to do that will save your life, so anything it doesn’t need to maintain for your immediate survival, is stopped. This means that the digestive and reproductive systems, tissue repair, the immune system and several other non-essential functions are all temporarily halted. Instead, your body prioritises all its energy on the most crucial functions. This why chronic, long term stress can lead to ill health as these systems are repeatedly shut down.

    These are just some of the changes you may experience or notice during the stress response:

    • Dry mouth
    • Colour drains from your face
    • Lump in the throat
    • Nausea
    • “Goose bumps”
    • Palpitations
    • Cold extremities
    • Mental alertness increases for quick decision making
    • Hyperventilating
    • Tension of muscles e.g. shoulders, thighs
    • Sweating
    • Butterflies in the stomach / feeling of panic
    • Urge to go to the toilet
    • Reduced perception of pain
    • Pupils dilate/ peripheral vision is also heightened.
    • Your hearing becomes sharper

    Use our free downloads.

    To find one of our Stress Management Consultants who can help and advise you on positive approaches to managing your stress: Click Here

  • Is Stress an Illness?

    No - stress in itself is not an illness, but it can cause illness.

    Stress is the body’s response or reaction to the excessive or prolonged pressures and/or challenges to the individual, and it’s this that can cause mental and/or physical ill health. Some ill health conditions may take many years to become apparent.

    Some ill health examples are given in the table below:

    Some Ailments And Illness That Can Either Be Stress Related, Or Trigger / Exacerbate a Pre-existing Condition

    • Heart Disease
    • Skin Disorders
    • High Blood Pressure
    • Stroke
    • Depression
    • Insomnia
    • Headaches / Migraine
    • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
    • Some Cancers
    • Colitis
    • Indigestion / Stomach Ulcers
    • Back, neck & shoulder pain
    • Menstrual Problems
    • Impotence
    • Allergies
    • Asthma
    • Diabetes
    • Overactive Thyroid

    Stress also lowers the immune system & makes you less resistant to opportunistic infections such as colds.

    To find one of our Stress Management Consultants who can help and advice you on stress including positive approaches to managing stress related ill health, and stress in the workplace: Click Here

  • As an employer do I really need to do anything about stress in the workplace?

    Yes. If you have 5 or more employees you are required to carry out an Organisational Risk Assessment for stress, and take effective action to manage it and where possible, prevent it.

    Employers also have a legal duty to protect their employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it. Stress is considered a hazard.

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    Or to one of our Stress Management Consultants who can help and advice you: Click Here

  • Is there a Law relating to Stress which, I must comply with as an employer?

    Currently no, but there are Acts and Regulations with which you must comply. For example:

    • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 dictate that organisations of greater than 5 people are required to assess the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities.
    • Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 organisations are required to take measures to control that risk.

    If you are unsure about your obligations or for more information, one of our Stress Management Consultants can help and advice you on Risk Assessment, Stress Policy and positive approaches to managing stress in the workplace: Click Here

    Or go to: or - to review the Management Standards

  • I understand that as an employer I must have a Stress Policy in place. Where can I find information on how to write a Stress Policy?

    Both the HSE and CIPD recommend a relevant Stress Policy is best practice and should include a Management Standards and / or a Psychosocial Risk Management approach.

    Certainly, having a Stress Policy is best practice and where appropriate, the risk assessment will recommend that a Stress Policy should be held.

    The Health and Safety Executive have an example Stress Policy on their website which you can download here.

    To find one of our Stress Management Consultants who can help and advice you on Risk Assessment, a Stress Policy and positive approaches to managing stress in the workplace: Click Here.