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Evidence-based Overviews   |   Associated Conditions   |   Work Accommodation  |   Decision Aids and Toolkits

Stress Organizations    |   Videos and Podcasts   |    Further Resources


We experience different types of stresses in daily living. Stress can be positive experience.  It can motivate us to focus on a task or take action and solve a problem. Positive stress is manageable and helpful when it is motivating, feels exciting, improves performance, and focuses energy. Positive stress can refresh our batteries and result in satisfaction and rewards. 

Distress or negative stress occurs when we think that the demands of the situation are greater than our resources to deal with that situation. 

For example, someone who feels comfortable speaking in public may not worry about giving a presentation, while someone who isn't confident in their skills may feel a lot of stress about an upcoming presentation. Common sources of stress may include major life events, like moving or changing jobs. Long-term worries, like a long-term illness or parenting, can also feel stressful. Even daily hassles like dealing with traffic can be a source of stress. Stress is unhelpful, when people may feel overwhelmed or feel like they can't possibly fix the problem. In these cases, some people avoid dealing with the original problem altogether, which may make the problem—and stress—worse. It can be very hard to concentrate, make decisions, and feel confident when a person experiences a lot of stress. Many people experience physical sensations like sweating, a racing heart, or tense muscles. Over time, stress can also have a big impact on physical health. Sleep difficulties and headaches are common problems related to stress. People are also more likely to get sick when they're experiencing a lot of stress. ~ Canadian Association for Mental Health

Distress can increase one's risk for chronic disease and be a factor that affects a broad range of health problems including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma, cancer and infectious disease, obesity and metabolic syndrome, substance abuse, chronic pain, and psychiatric distress. Stress is a common reason patients seek help from general physicians and specialists. 

Stress can be defined as the brain's response to any demand. Many things can trigger this response, including change. Changes can be positive or negative, as well as real or perceived. They may be recurring, short-term, or long-term and may include things like commuting to and from work every day, moving to another home…or dealing with chronic pain.

Positive vs. Negative Stress

Examples of positive personal stress include:

  • Receiving a work promotion
  • Beginning a new job
  • Getting married
  • Buying a home
  • Having a child
  • Moving
  • Holiday seasons
  • Retiring

Examples of negative personal stress include:

  • Unemployment
  • The death of a loved one
  • Filing for divorce
  • Money problems
  • Sleep problems
  • Losing contact with loved ones
  • Hospitalization, injury or illness (self or loved one)
  • Being abused or neglected
  • Separation from a spouse or partner
  • Conflict in interpersonal relationships
  • Children's problems at school
  • Legal problems

Other employment concerns can also be causes of distress:

  • Making presentations
  • Conflicts with colleagues and supervisors
  • Excessive job demands
  • Job insecurity
  • Inadequate authority necessary to carry out tasks
  • Lack of training necessary to do the job
  • Unproductive and time-consuming meetings
  • Commuting and travel schedules

Internal Stressors

Stressors are not always limited to situations where an external situation creates a problem. Internal situations such as feelings and thoughts and behaviors can also cause negative stress.

Some internal common causes of distress include:

  • Fears (eg. fears of flying, public speaking, chatting with strangers in social situations)
  • Catastrophizing (e.g. predicting a worst case result)
  • Worrying about the future (eg. job restructuring or medical test results)
  • Unrealistic, perfectionist expectations
  • Repetitive thought patterns
Habitual behaviors that can lead to stress include:
  • Procrastination or failing to plan ahead
  • Overscheduling
  • Failing to be assertive

How Much Is Too Much Stress

Signs that you are over-stressed may include:

  • Feelings of irritability, sadness or guilt
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Change in weight or appetite
  • Difficulty in concentrating or making decisions
  • Negative thinking
  • Loss of interest, enjoyment or energy in something you used to enjoy
  • Restlessness

Stress is considered to be a risk factor in a great many diseases. Yet there are many ways of dealing with stress that can reduce your risk. Explore the stress reduction tools and resources below.

Mental Wellbeing

Improving your overall mental wellbeing may help. There are five evidence-based stepswe can all take to improve our mental wellbeing:

  • Get active
  • Connect with others
  • Keep learning
  • Be aware of yourself and the world
  • Give to others

Evidence-Based Overviews 

Sponsor Organization
Fact Sheet on Stress
National Institutes of Health (NIH) (US)
Stress Fact Sheet
BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions
Stress Management
University of Michigan

Associated Conditions  

   Anxiety Disorders  


​Work Accommodation Information  

Sponsor Organization
CIRPD Webinars - Workplace Mental Health
Canadian Institute for the Relief of Pain and Disability
Guarding Minds at Work
Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMHA), Simon Fraser University
What Makes a Workplace Stressful?
Stanford University (BeWell@Stanford)
Workplace Stress
Mood Disorders Society of Canada

​Decision Aids and Toolkits  

Sponsor Organization
A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook
BellyBio Interactive Breathing mobile app - physician's review
review by University of British Columbia
Handbook of Adult Resilience - History of the research on resilience
Identifying Values Worksheet
Psychology Tools
Living Beyond Your Pain: Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Ease Chronic Pain
Managing Chronic Pain: A Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Approach Workbook
Mental Health Meter
Canadian Mental Health Association
Mental Resilience: Practical techniques for developing positive mind states
University of Auckland
Mood Self-Assessment Quiz
National Health Services [NHS] [UK]
Psychology Tools
Reduce Stress to Sleep Better
Here to Help BC
Relaxation Tips to Relieve Stress
National Health Services [NHS] [UK]
Self-Help Exercises
WalkAlong – University of British Columbia
Stress and Thinking Differently [pdf]
Get Self Help UK
Take a Break guided meditation mobile app - physician's review
review by University of British Columbia
What’s Your Stress Index?
Canadian Mental Health Association
Work-Health Balance Quiz
Canadian Mental Health Association

​Related Organizations  

Sponsor Organization
Anxiety and Depression Association of America
Anxiety BC
Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada
Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba
Anxiety Disorders Association of Ontario
BC Directory of Health Researchers and Trainees
Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research
British Columbia Psychological Association
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments: An
Heart and Stroke Foundation of BC and Yukon
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction - BC Chapter (MBSRBC)
Mood Disorders Association of BC
Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba
Mood Disorders Association of Ontario
Richmond Mental Health Consumer and Friends Society (RCFC)

​Videos and Podcasts 

Sponsor Organization
CIRPD webinars – Chronic Pain and Mental Health
Canadian Institute for the Relief of Pain and Disability
CIRPD webinars - Self-Management
Canadian Institute for the Relief of Pain and Disability
Health and Stress Management with Mindfulness
University of California
How to Be Good at Stress
Incorporating Mindfulness into Everyday Living
National Institutes of Health
Mindfulness Webinars
Canadian Institute for the Relief of Pain and Disability
One Simple Solution for Medication Safety
Institute for Safe Medication Practices Canada

​Further Stress Resources 

Sponsor Organization
BC HealthGuide
HealthLink BC
Here to Help
Learn to Manage Stress
MedlinePlus, National Institutes of Health (NIH) (US)
Psychology Fact Sheets
Canadian Psychological Association
Struggling with Stress?
National Health Services [NHS] [UK]
Ten Stress Busters
National Health Services [NHS] [UK]
To Ease Pain, Reach for Your Playlist
National Public Radio [NPR]



Reviewed by Marc White PhD, Scientific & Executive Director, CIRPD (See Review Criteria)

Last Modified: 1/28/2016 3:45 PM