Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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Health and Safety: Teaching Tools



What is Stress?

"Stress" is the harmful physical and emotional response that can happen when there is a conflict between demands on a person and the amount of control the person has over meeting these demands. In general, the combination of high demands in a job (or any situation) and a low amount of control over the situation can lead to stress. Stress can have many sources or come from one single event. Working can be stressful, as can a potentially violent situation, or a difficult family environment.

What is Stress?

Some stress is normal. In fact, it is often what provides us with the energy and motivation to meet our daily challenges at home, at school, and at the workplace. Stress in these situations is the kind that helps you "rise" to a challenge and meet your goals such as deadlines, project due dates, or learning new concepts. In a workplace goals might be sales or production targets, or finding new clients. Some people would not consider this challenge a type of stress because, having met the challenge, we are satisfied and happy. However, as with most things, too much stress can have negative impacts. When the feeling of satisfaction turns into exhaustion, frustration or dissatisfaction, or when the challenges at school or work become too demanding, we experience stress.

Prevention and Management

Signs of Stress

The best prevention is to recognize the signs of stress. There are many different signs and symptoms that can indicate when someone is having difficulty coping with the amount of stress they are experiencing. Remember that not all signs will show up at the same time.


  • headaches,
  • grinding teeth,
  • chest pain,
  • shortness of breath,
  • pounding heart,
  • muscle aches,
  • stomach problems,
  • increased sweating,
  • always feeling tired, or
  • can't sleep.


  • anxious,
  • irritable,
  • sad,
  • defensive,
  • angry,
  • mood swings,
  • hypersensitive,
  • depression,
  • slowed thinking or racing thoughts, or
  • feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or of being trapped.


  • overeating or loss of appetite,
  • impatient,
  • quick to argue,
  • putting things off,
  • increased smoking (or use of drugs or alcohol),
  • staying away from others,
  • ignores responsibility, or
  • poor personal hygiene (poor appearance, etc.).


Since the causes of stress vary greatly, so do the strategies to reduce or prevent it. Where stress is caused, for example, by a physical agent, it is best to control it at its source.

Determine the Source

  • If the workplace is too loud, control measures to deal with the noise should be put in place where possible.
  • If you are experiencing pain from repetitive strain, workstations can be re-designed to reduce repetitive and strenuous movements.
  • Too Busy? Boring? The job should be reasonably challenging and provide you with at least some variety in job tasks but not so much that you are overloaded.

In many cases, the source of the stress is something that cannot be changed immediately. Therefore, finding ways to help maintain good mental health is essential. Learners might want try some of the following as suggested by the Canadian Mental Health Association:

Relieving Stress

LAUGH - it is one of the easiest and best ways to reduce stress.
SHARE a joke with a co-worker, watch a funny movie at home with some friends, read the comics, and try to see the humour in the situation.
LEARN to relax, take several deep breaths throughout the day.
STRETCH - it is simple enough to do anywhere and only takes a few minutes.
TAKE charge of your situation by taking 10 minutes at the beginning of each day to set priorities and organize your day.

Source: Canadian Mental Health Association, "Sources of Workplace Stress" Richmond, British Columbia.

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