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When stress is not normal

Mary Gosche, Human Development Specialist, Cape Girardeau County and Southeast Region, University of Missouri Extension

Everyone has stress and a moderate amount of stress is normal. A stressor is any demand on your body or your mind. Stressors can be unpleasant or pleasant experiences like a family reunion, the holidays or exercise. Situations that are considered stressful for one person may have little effect on another person.

Imagine taking a nice walk on a beautiful fall day. You are enjoying the fresh air and the colors of fall. Suddenly, a big, angry dog is running toward you. How do you react? Most likely, you will turn and run from the dog. Whenever people are faced with an emergency like this, the body turns on its alarm reaction, called the fight-or-flight syndrome. The adrenal glands give off a large amount of adrenaline, the heart rate increases, and small veins and arteries constrict to prevent the loss of blood. Once the emergency is dealt with, the nervous system kicks in and calms the fight-or-flight response.

Stress affects us in much the same way as this rush of adrenaline. The right amount of stress will help you meet deadlines and be productive. Too much stress can burn you out or make you unable to perform normal activities. Too little stress doesn't do your body any good and may even prevent you from getting out of bed in the morning.

There are different levels of human reactions:

  • Stress: low risk, needs self-help techniques through education
  • Crisis: needs help from trained therapist
  • Depression: needs therapy from a trained therapist and referral to medical resource
  • Destruction: very high risk and needs specialized professional therapy


Stress management and coping strategies are well known, such as exercise, humor, healthy diet, a friend to talk to, and saying “no” to demands when possible. Acknowledging your stress level and utilizing such strategies is the tricky part. It's also very important to recognize when strategies like these are no longer working for you.

Stress can build up without you realizing it. The pile-up effects of everyday hassles can become very harmful to your mental and physical health if you aren't managing them effectively. Pay attention to how you currently react to life's events. Learn to recognize what level of stress you are at and which coping methods work best for you.


So what are the signs of stress that are not normal?

Warning signs of clinical depression:

  • Sleep problems (early morning wakening, difficulty getting to sleep, sleeping too much)
  • Lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
  • Problems with eating (no appetite or weight loss or gain)
  • Loss of interest in normal activities including sex
  • Frequent crying bouts
  • Feelings of emptiness, ongoing sadness or anxiety
  • Aches and pains that don't go away
  • Difficulty with memory, concentration or decision making
  • Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness or thinking that the future looks grim
  • Irritability
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If you or a loved one has one (or more) of the above, it is important that you seek professional help for yourself or your loved one. Call a local counseling center for an immediate appointment.


Sotile, W. and Sotile, M., Supercouple Syndrome, John Wiley, & Sons, Inc.


University of Missouri publication, Stress Management The Challenge of Balance. Barakat, I. and Clark, J. GH 6651.


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Last Updated 11/03/2014