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You have a major deadline coming up tomorrow and you still have a ton of work to do. Your child’s principal called; your child is being disruptive … again. You have 12 people coming over for dinner this weekend and you still have no idea what you’re going to make. On top of everything else, your mother isn’t feeling well but refuses to go to the doctor. Your muscles are feeling tense, you find yourself nervously tapping your feet as you sit at your desk. Your thoughts keep racing around in your head and the people around you are starting to avoid you because you keep snapping at them. This is stress. And most of us have been there.

On this page:

What is it?

Stress is the response of your body and mind to demands being placed on you. When you feel threatened, your brain releases chemicals called hormones that send alarm signals throughout your body. These hormones prepare your body to take action. The hormones make your skin sweat, your breathing quicken, your heart rate go up, your muscles tense, and your senses come alive. It’s this “fight or flight” stress response that allowed our human ancestors to survive when face-to-face with a threat. Unfortunately, most of our modern “threats” like workloads or family conflict are not situations we can easily fight with our fists or run away from. When we don’t have a healthy way to deal with stress, it can harm us more than help.

Some common sources of stress, known as stressors, include the following:

In small amounts, stress is good for us. Stress can motivate us and push us to reach our potential. It can help you get through that presentation to your clients or motivate us to do homework when we’d rather take a nap. Stress is very individual. What you find stressful may not be stressful for someone else.

It’s important to know that stress itself is not a mental illness. But when the stress keeps piling up and it starts to make you feel worse instead of motivating you, it can harm your mental health and well-being. Stress is a risk factor for someone who is already vulnerable to developing a mental illness. Stress can affect us physically too. In high amounts stress can, for example, cause high blood pressure and make it hard for your body to fight off infections.


Who does it affect?

Stress affects most of us. In a recent Canadian poll, about one-quarter of Canadians said that they feel quite a bit stressed or extremely stressed most days . But stress can affect some people differently than others:


Could I be over stressed?

Signals of stress may include changes in your body, actions, emotions, and thoughts. Learning to identify these changes may help you better manage your stress:

Changes in your BODY
Changes in your ACTIONS
Changes in your EMOTIONS
Changes in your THINKING

Of course, things other than stress can cause some of these symptoms. And having some of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re over-stressed. But if you are experiencing a lot of these symptoms along with some of the stressors listed at the beginning of this sheet, you may want to seek extra support or advice.


What can I do about it?

Because stress is so individual, we each need to find our own way to cope. There are some things that you can do to figure out how to best deal with your stress:


Where do I go from here?

BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information

Visit See our section on managing stress including our Wellness Modules. The Modules are full of information, tips and worksheets to help you understand stress and take care of your mental health.

Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division

Visit or call 1-800-555-8222 (toll-free in BC) or 604-688-3234 (in Greater Vancouver) for information and community resources on how best to manage stress, including workbooks and courses.

Resources available in many languages:

*For each service below, if English is not your first language, say the name of your preferred language in English to be connected to an interpreter. More than 100 languages are available.

HealthLink BC

Call 811 or visit to access free, non-emergency health information for anyone in your family, including mental health information. Through 811, you can also speak to a registered nurse about symptoms you’re worried about, or talk to a pharmacist about medication questions.

Crisis lines aren’t only for people in crisis. You can call for information on local services or if you just need someone to talk to. If you are in distress, call 310-6789 (do not add 604, 778 or 250 before the number) 24 hours a day to connect to a BC crisis line, without a wait or busy signal. The crisis lines linked in through 310-6789 have received advanced training in mental health issues and services by members of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information.

© 2014

This info sheet was prepared by CMHA BC Division on behalf of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information and HeretoHelp. Funding was provided by BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority. For more resources visit

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