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1 What is stress?

Photo of a to-do list
Figure 1 Pressures surround us at work and at home

Stress is a feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure, and a feeling that you are unable to cope. Most people experience stressful situations at some point and our bodies generate stress hormones (which trigger our internal ‘fight or flight’ response) to help us deal with them. However, if we are constantly feeling stressed, these hormones remain in our bodies and start to affect our physical and mental well-being. We become increasingly unable to cope with the demands placed on us – whether at work or at home.

Statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) (2016) on stress illustrate what a problem stress is for organisations. In Great Britain in 2014/15:

  • the total number of working days lost was 9.9 million – 43 per cent of all working days lost due to ill health
  • stress accounted for 35 per cent of all work-related ill health cases
  • stress is more prevalent in public sector occupations.

The HSE reports that stress due to workload pressures included meeting tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of support.