Everything You Need To Know About Stress and De-Stress

Dr. K K Leung
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Last Updated:

5 min read

asian woman looking stressed out

Hong Kong is one of the most stressful cities in the world. According to a 2020 research, 89% of Hong Kong citizens reported that they feel stressed over the previous months, possibly owing to the mental health crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Stress is a normal response to challenges and everyone has a time of stress at some point of their life. However, when stress is unmanaged over an extended period, it can bring severe consequences to your health. Here is a comprehensive guide on stress for you to understand the different types of stress, its causes and impacts, and get tips for relieving stress. 


What is stress?

Stress is the pressure experienced by an individual in response to life-challenging events. These challenging events could be interactions of various events in life, from physical health, social interactions, work-related issues , to personal feelings. Stress is also known as a process of adjustment to difficult situations that threaten the physical and psychological functioning of an individual. Stress is the tension, strain and pressures from a circumstance that requires new coping strategies. 

Types of stress

There are many types of stress. The followings are several examples of stress commonly experienced by people: 



Distress is the stress that results from unpleasant and undesirable stressors. Distress can be experienced from pleasant or desirable events as well, including having a newborn baby and job promotion. Distress is the maladaptive physiological and psychological responses experienced by an individual in face of a stressor. It is caused by the challenges that lead to physiological and psychological changes. An example of distress could be an unpredicted death of a family member. 



Eustress is the optimal physiological and psychological responses experienced by an individual in face of a challenging event. This type of stress is beneficial for us as it helps to facilitate growth and development. An example of eustress could be receiving compliments from a supervisor at work.


Acute stress

Acute stress is the stress that results from a negative event that is highly predictable and uncontrollable. Acute stress may result from predictable events as well (e.g. an upcoming examination; the gist of acute stress is that it is short-term but sharp. Extreme examples of acute stress would be natural disasters, terrorist attacks and traffic accidents. Acute stress may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if one fails to receive instant support and care. 


Chronic stress

Chronic stress is the stress caused by long-term exposure to a circumstance or event that repetitively increases an individual’s stress level. Chronic stress is harmful to our both physical and psychological health because it activates the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Examples of chronic stress include unemployment and increasing financial obligations. 


Episodic acute stress

Episodic acute stress occurs when an individual is frequently exposed to acute stress. Examples of episodic acute stress would be working under life-threatening conditions and chronic illness or injury. 

What is a stressor?

There are many causes of stress/distress. They are biological propensity, cognitive appraisal, personality, emotional regulation, skills repertoire, resources available; coping style, etc. Stress is typically precipitated by stressors, which are defined as stimuli that proceed and precipitate a change. 


Stressors may exert pressure and uncontrollability on an individual: pressure is known as the affective experience produced when there is an urge to attain expectations; while uncontrollability denotes that the less control an individual has for a situation, the greater the stress levels he or she will experience.

Types of stressors

In psychology, stressors can be described by their source and characteristics. Some common types of stressors are:


Internal stressors

Internal stressors are originated inside an individual, e.g., negative self-talk and unrealistic expectations.


External stressors

External stressors are originated outside an individual, e.g., financial burdens and interpersonal relationships. 


Developmental stressors

Developmental stressors originate from normal growing experience throughout the developmental stages of an individual, e.g., graduation from high school and being separated from parents. 


Situational stressors

Situational stressors are unexpected and unpredictable in either a positive or negative way, e.g., traffic accidents and a sudden change in life. 


Physiological stressors 

Physiological stressors are caused by poor health conditions and diseases, e.g., chronic illness and abnormal body temperature.  

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What are the symptoms of stress?

Symptoms of stress may differ from individual to individual, but can be categorized into four aspects, namely affective, behavioral, cognitive and somatic symptoms. If you are stressed, you may experience some of the symptoms listed here:


Affective symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Irritability 

Behavioral symptoms

  • Disruptive eating patterns
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Self-isolation
  • Compulsive shopping
  • Reduced problem solving skills
  • Decreased structuring skills 
  • Self-control problems 

Cognitive symptoms

  • Memory difficulties
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Negative thinking 
  • Self-deprecating thinking

Somatic symptoms

  • Increased sweat production
  • Peripheral blood vessel constriction
  • Dry mouth
  • Reduced urine output 

Stress-related mental disorders

While stress is a normal part of life, unregulated stress over time can turn dangerous and backfire in the shape of  mental disorders.


The followings are some common mental disorders related to stress:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Acute stress disorder
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Adjustment disorders

Once it becomes a mental disorder, the effect can be destructive to one’s mental well-being. It is therefore essential to manage our stress level and find proper exits for it in time. 

Self-help tips for stress relief

It is okay to be stressed at times. Everyone does. You just need to manage it by learning to relax from time to time and regain control over your life. In fact, stress management, as complicated as it may sound, can be done with simply slight changes in your lifestyle. Try the following tips and stick to what fits you the best!


Develop a new hobby 

Having a hobby can greatly help relieve your stress because it can distract you from the event that stresses you out. Finding a leisure activity that you genuinely enjoy can effectively reduce your stress level and boost your mental well-being in the long run. 


Engage in physical exercise

Exercises are beneficial for relieving stress as it activates your body to release endorphins, the “happy hormone”  that promotes happiness and relaxation. Moreover, exercising regularly can help you manage stress levels and reduce muscle tension. Aside from cardio exercises like swimming, jogging and cycling, stretching exercises like yoga can also promote well-being both physically and mentally.  


Healthy and balanced diet

Certain foods can reduce your stress levels. For example, dark chocolate is beneficial for stress reduction as it contains polyphenol, which decreases the level of stress hormones(cortisol and adrenaline) in your body. Eating bananas also reduces stress and anxiety due to its rich vitamin B content which is effective in lowering stress levels as it increases serotonin production. 


Talk to friends and family

Social communication has a lot of benefits. Research shows that chatting and laughing with friends can improve our mood and decrease our stress and anxiety levels. Another study suggested that chatting also enhances our executive function, a set of mental skills crucial in learning and cognitive development which also enhances our problem-solving skills. Social groups, for instance, can provide support for you when you are coping with stressful events. It may also help to talk about your stress with someone who might share similar stressful feelings. 


Last but not least, if things still do not work out for you and you feel like you are losing your grip, be sure to see your counselor or therapist for advice right away. Remember, you are never alone.

Do you need help?

In case of need for immediate support, please do not hesitate to reach out to professional help. Below is a list of hotlines with 24-hour support.


Suicide prevention hotlines

The Samaritans
Hotline: 2896 0000
Available languages: English, Cantonese, Mandarin


Suicide Prevention 
Hotline: 2382 0000
Available languages: Cantonese 


The Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong 
Hotline: 2389 2222
Available languages: Cantonese


What are the common signs of stress?

Common symptoms of stress are depressed mood, high irritability, reduced cognitive abilities and self-isolation. Higher and chronic stress levels may also result in more severe symptoms such as Alzheimer’s disease, acute heart failure and asthma.

How does stress affect the body?
Which exercise is best for stress?
What is the difference between stress and anxiety?

This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.

Dr. K K Leung
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