Stress is a part of life, but prolonged stress can negatively affect both physical and mental health.

What Is Stress?

Stress is a natural reaction of the body that happens to everyone. Your body is designed to experience and respond to stress. When you face changes or challenges (stressors), your body reacts both physically and mentally. That's stress.

The stress response helps your body adapt to new situations. Stress can be beneficial, keeping you alert, motivated, and ready to deal with danger. For example, if you have an important test coming up, your stress response can help you work harder and stay alert. However, if stress is persistent, it can negatively impact your physical and mental health.

Based on symptoms and signs, stress is divided into three main types:

  • Acute stress: This is short-term stress, which comes and goes quickly. Everyone experiences acute stress from time to time.

  • Episodic acute stress: Episodic acute stress is when you frequently experience acute stress and do not have enough time to return to a calm and relaxed state.

  • Chronic stress: Chronic stress is long-term stress that lasts for weeks or even months. You may experience chronic stress due to marital troubles, problems at work, or financial problems. It's important to find ways to manage chronic stress because it can lead to health issues.

Signs You May Be Experiencing Stress

When faced with a stressful event or situation, your body responds by activating the nervous system and releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones cause physical changes in the body, such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. Along with that, the body's breathing and metabolism speed up. Your pupils will dilate and you will start to sweat more. These physical changes help you react quickly and effectively to overcome stressful situations. These are common signs of acute stress.

As stress remains at higher levels, other symptoms may appear. Some symptoms of chronic stress include:

  • Physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, fatigue, insomnia or other sleep disorders, stomach pain, diarrhea, frequent headaches, muscular aches and pains, weakened immune system, high blood pressure, etc.

  • Psychological symptoms such as anxiety, fear, anger, tearfulness, irritability, helplessness, difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering, feeling overwhelmed...

One thing to note is that stress can sometimes be confused with anxiety. In most cases, stress is caused by external events, while anxiety is caused by your body's internal response to stress. Stress may go away after the threat or situation is resolved; while anxiety can persist even after the original stressor has gone away.

WARNING: The symptoms listed are for reference only. If you suspect that you have chronic stress, see a psychologist for an accurate diagnosis.

How Does Stress Affect Health?

Stress can make it more difficult to deal with life's daily hassles, affect your interpersonal relationships, and have a detrimental impact on your health.

Acute stress, such as experiencing a natural disaster or verbal conflict, can cause heart attacks, arrhythmias, and even sudden death. However, these risks occur mainly in people who already have heart disease. Stress also takes an emotional toll. While some instances of stress can create feelings of anxiety or frustration, prolonged stress can lead to burnout, anxiety disorders, and depression.

Chronic stress can also seriously affect your health. If you experience chronic stress, your autonomic nervous system will be overactive, and this can take a toll on the body. Some health problems caused by stress include cancer; chronic pain; diabetes; inflammatory diseases; heart disease; hyperthyroidism; skin problems; hair loss; obesity; sexual dysfunction; sleep disorders; dental diseases, etc.

Common Types Of Stress

Family Stress

Family stress is any stressor involving one or more family members (or the entire family) at a defined time, affecting the emotional connection between members, their mood, well-being, as well as the maintenance of family relationships.

One thing worth noting is that stress can be "transmitted" between family members. When you are stressed, you will feel anxious or impatient, you may have behaviors such as yelling or getting angry at others. In response to that, the other person will also become nervous or impatient, provoking the next person, and things continue like that.

On the other hand, you can also react to stressors by "turning inward", meaning not yelling or engaging in negative behaviors with other family members. However, people experiencing stress always emit “stress cues” – through their voice, facial expressions, body movements, and maybe even odors or pheromones. These signals make the other person feel that there is a threat in the environment and their autonomic nervous system responds and causes them stress.

Stress In Studying And Exams

“We live in a test-conscious, test-giving culture in which the lives of people are in part determined by their test performance” (Sarason et al, 1960).

Research shows that exams can cause stress for learners through the following four factors:

  • Consequences of not getting good grades: Exams are stressors by their nature because of their educational and/or career consequences. For example: You know that you need to get at least 8 points to enter university, or you have a vague understanding that you need to get higher test scores to get a 'good' job in the future.

  • Self-esteem: Normally, learners will tend to judge themselves based on their scores, good scores are synonymous with appreciation. In other words, self-esteem can be enhanced through academic achievement.

  • Judgments from others, such as parents.

  • Fear appeals by teachers: Repeated messages that teachers convey to students about the importance of exams can be a source of stress, such as: “If you don't get 8 points, you will not be able to enter university." Although the fearful content of such messages may have been intended as a motivational strategy by teachers, it did not always have the desired effect. 

Stress At The Workplace

Work-related stress occurs when you are faced with job demands and pressures that are not matched to your knowledge and abilities and challenge your ability to cope. Stress often gets worse when you feel like you have little support from your leaders and colleagues, and have less control over your work process.

There are two basic groups of factors that lead to stress in the workplace, including:

  • Work contents include job content (monotony, under-stimulation, meaningless tasks, lack of variety, etc); workload and work pace (too much or too little to do, work under time pressure, etc.); working hours (strict or inflexible, long and unsocial, unpredictable, badly designed shift systems); and participation and control (lack of participation in decision-making, lack of control over work processes, pace, hours, methods, and the work environment).

  • Work context includes career development, status, and pay (job insecurity, lack of promotion opportunities, under- or over-promotion, work of low social value, piece rate payment schemes, unclear or unfair performance evaluation systems, being over or under-skilled for a job); the worker’s role in the organization (unclear role, conflicting roles); interpersonal relationships (inadequate, inconsiderate or unsupportive supervision, poor relationships with colleagues, bullying/harassment and violence, isolated or solitary work, etc.); organizational culture (poor communication, poor leadership, lack of behavioral rule, lack of clarity about organizational objectives, structures, and strategies); and work-life balance (conflicting demands of work and home, lack of support for domestic problems at work, lack of support for work problems at home, lack of organizational rules and policies to support work-life balance).

Tips To Help Prevent And Reduce Stress

Stress is inevitable, but you can prevent it from becoming overwhelming by:

  • Stress management starts with improving physical health. Try doing some exercise or physical activity when you feel symptoms of stress coming on. This can help improve your mood.

  • At the end of the day, take a moment to reflect on what you've accomplished - not what you didn’t get done.

  • Set goals for each day, each week, and each month. Narrowing your vision can help you feel more in control of your current and long-term tasks.

Besides, some methods that can help you stay away from stress include:

  • Try relaxing activities, such as meditation, yoga, or breathing and muscle relaxation exercises. There are currently many coaching programs available online and in apps, or you can register for courses at centers or clubs.

  • Take good care of your body every day. Eating right, engaging in physical activity, and getting enough sleep can help your body handle stress better.

  • Stay positive and practice gratitude, acknowledging the good things in your day or life.

  • Accept that you cannot control everything. Find ways to let go of worrying about situations you cannot change.

  • Learn to say “no” to additional responsibilities when you are too busy or stressed.

  • Stay connected with people who calm you down, make you happy, provide emotional support, and help you with practical things. It could be a friend, family member, or neighbor who knows how to listen or share responsibilities so the stress doesn't become too much for you to bear.

When Should You Seek Professional Help? 

The answer is when the stress becomes too much to bear. As mentioned above, stress is essentially a biological response to threatening situations. Stress is a part of life, but prolonged stress can lead to negative effects on both physical and mental health. Usually, your body is the first to “tell” you that something is wrong and you need to slow down to reduce your stress levels.

If stress is taking over your life or that of someone you know, you should see a psychologist to develop a treatment plan tailored to your needs and condition.

If you feel you are having symptoms of chronic stress, go to a medical facility for timely examination and diagnosis, or contact the Vietnam - France Psychology Institute via Hotline: 0979.158.463 for specific advice. Early intervention is key to improving health and quality of life.


[1] Stress.

[2] Stress.

[3] What Is Stress?.

[4] Family stress: An evidence-based guide.

[5] Examination stress and test anxiety.

[6] Occupational health: Stress at the workplace.

[7] 4 Signs It May Be Time To Seek Professional Mental Health Help.



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