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What is Stress?

Alisha M. Hardman, Extension Graduate Student
Reviewed by Rose Allen, Family Relations Extension Educator

Stress may be caused by major life events and transitions but is also caused by daily hassles, worries and demands. Stress is highly individualized and as such, what is stressful for one person may not be stressful for another. It is important that you are able to identify your sources of stress. Most stressors fall into one of the types of stress listed below.

Types of Stress

  • General time/no time stress
  • Anxiety-for-others stress
  • Work stress
  • Environmental stress
  • Family/relationship stress
  • Social stress
  • Financial stress
  • Emptiness stress
  • Health stress
  • Too-much-to-do stress
  • Housing stress
  • Too-little-to-do stress

Symptoms of Stress

Just as a flashing red light in your dashboard warns that something is wrong with the car's engine, we all display warning signs when we experience stress. These signs and symptoms allow you to recognize when you or others are stressed and may include symptoms such as:

  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Memory problems
  • Restlessness
  • Irritation
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea/stomach problems
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Tiredness
  • Sleep problems
  • Impatience
  • Dissatisfaction
  • Depression
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

Managing stress

You may not be able to get rid of all sources of stress in your life but there are strategies you can use to help cope with and manage stress.

  1. Take care of your physical health by exercising, eating well, and getting an adequate amount of sleep.
  2. Manage and restrict the amount of stress in life by utilizing time management skills and setting limits.
  3. Attend to your mental health by making time to relax, engaging in positive thinking, and including pleasant distractions into your day.
  4. Surround yourself with sources of support. Enjoy time with a friend whether venting frustrations, listening to words of encouragement, or spending time laughing together.

It is important to remember that not all stress is bad and that moderate levels of stress, when managed effectively, is actually healthy. Tolerable levels of stress may provide a challenge that increases productivity. Studies have shown that short-lived bouts of stress may boost your immune system.


Bal, V., Campbell, M., & McDowell-Larsen, S. (2008). In Focus/Managing Stress: Surviving the pressure cooker. Leadership in Action, 28, 18-20.

Brattberg, G. (2006). Short Communication: User friendly and ‘useworthy’ stress barometer. Stress and Health: Journal of the international society for the investigation of stress, 22, 105-114.


You may also be interested in resources for dealing with stress, or resources aimed at farm families or disaster recovery. See other recommended resources for resources beyond Extension.

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