Stress: causes, symptoms, risks and treatment

Stress is not only negative. Find out when stress is bad for us, what are its health risks and how to manage stress on a daily basis, with the advice of Dr. Patrick Légeron, psychiatrist and founder of Stimulus, a consulting firm on psychological health at work.


What is stress ?

Far from being a fashionable term, stress is a very strong scientific concept that has been studied for more than 80 years. “We know that stress is a reaction produced by the organism so that it adapts to an environment or an event that represents a danger, a threatinforms Dr. Patrick Légeron. Before, this reaction took place in front of a predator. It’s more and more a reaction that we have faced with a performance challenge, to achieve something that is asked of usspecifies this stress specialist.

On the same subject

“Stress is a wonderful mechanism that helps us by mobilizing the body and mind to fight against a physical or psycho-social danger”, explains the doctor. This innate reaction, common to all mammals, is useful and therefore not a disease!

How to distinguish good stress from bad stress (hyperstress)?

the good stress is the one that we all know at certain times in our lives and that helps us. It is the one that energizes us, helps us to be efficient, before a sporting event, an exam… Bad stress called hyperstressit is already repetitive stress – stress must be consumed in moderation! – but it is also stress that is too violent, too intense and permanent stress from morning to evening”, describes Dr. Légeron.

The sign that stress is bad stress? “You feel like you can’t control it whereas good stress allows us to face danger or challenge with a sense of mastery,” says the psychiatrist.

Causes: what are the mechanisms of stress?

During the first phase of stress, as soon as our body is confronted with a situation considered dangerous, it releases hormones, in particularadrenaline. These hormones increase heart rate, blood pressure, alertness levels, body temperature and cause vasodilation of muscle vessels. So many modifications that prepare our body for fight or flight. When the threat persists, our body releases new hormones (cortisol, dopamine, serotonin, endorphins) to provide the body and the brain with sufficient energy to resist the attack. When the situation persists, our body becomes exhausted by constantly secreting stress hormones.

What are the risk factors for stress?

Several causes of stress have been identified. The first is a excessive cognitive overload (too many things to do). If in addition, this accumulation of tasks is monotonous and not varied, the risk of hyperstress is even greater. “The fact that what we have to do is not controllable is also a bad stress factor”, adds Dr. Légeron. This is the case for example when you do not have the skills to perform a task. “It has also been shown that actions that do not make sense to us and do not make us happy are a cause of hyperstress.informs the psychiatrist. Finally, pathological relationships are sources of stress. explains Dr. Légeron. Conflicting relationships, situations of harassment, aggressiveness, non-respect make the bed of stress.

What are the symptoms of hyperstress?

The stress too repetitive, too intense, or permanent, which can be grouped under the termhyper stress results in physical, psychological and cognitive signs and changes in behavior. The physical signs that are linked to the mechanisms of stress can be:

“The psychological signs of stress are also extremely important. Science shows that stress mechanisms originate in the emotional brain.” informs Dr. Légeron. This explains why hyperstress is manifested by:

  • irritability,
  • a tendency to get angryto bear nothing more,
  • to worry about everything,
  • to withdraw into oneself and no longer talk to others.

“Bad stress also causes cognitive disturbances : the person has trouble concentrating, makes mistakes, has memory lapses”, describes the psychiatrist.

Finally, the fourth category of signs of stress consists of a change in behavior, for example an increase in tobacco or alcohol consumption or compulsive eating. “It is important to identify the symptoms of hyperstress because it leads to exhaustion, to burnoutcardiovascular disease, alerts Dr. Légeron. This recommends to be particularly vigilant if you show signs of stress in the different categories of symptoms.

Hyperstress: what to do?

Already, it is recommended to avoid the identified sources of stress as much as possible. “Ask yourself if you can eliminate your causes of stress by organizing your life better”, advises Dr Légeron. For instance, if being in traffic during rush hour is very stressful for youwhy not shift your schedules or ask to telecommute?

If some of your colleagues are stressful, maybe you can ask to change offices? However, as not all causes of stress can be eliminated, it is important to know how to manage stress. “This is possible thanks to anti-stress techniques to teach your body to stay calm: meditation, breathing, relaxation techniques”says Dr. Légeron.

You find apps to use these techniques every day. Managing day-to-day stress also involves developing more effective mental attitudes. “It’s about taking some distance and relativizing” explains the psychiatrist.

He adds that managing stress also requires having fun. “Pleasure is an antidote to stress because it allows the release of hormones such as endorphins”,he details. Having fun can be practicing a pleasant activity, having moments with people you like… A healthy lifestyle, with the practice of physical activity, is also essential for managing stress, just like the fact to have positive contacts with the people around us. This is what positive psychology teaches us.

In case of high stress, how to manage and calm down? “All the techniques of soothing the body and the mind (mediation, relaxation, breathing) can be used in the event of high stress”, says Dr. Légeron. Abdominal breathing and cardiac coherence are solutions to soothe you in the event of very high stress. If you really feel overwhelmed by stress, do not hesitate to consult your doctor, your occupational doctor or a psychologist. If you are experiencing a burnout, a psychiatrist can help you get out of it.

What are the short and long term health risks of chronic stress?

“Chronic stress is not only a psychological problem, but it has very important consequences in terms of health”, alerts Dr. Légeron. Chronic stress is thus a very important cardiovascular risk factor. “We now know that stress is as dangerous for the heart as cigarettes or cholesterol”underlines the psychiatrist.

Stress also has harmful effects on other organs including the brain and can lead to digestive pathologies, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), sleep disorders, mood disorders, depression. “Chronic stress can also lead to burnout”, alerts Dr. Patrick Légeron.


  • Interview Patrick Légeron, psychiatrist, author of stress at workEditions Odile Jacob, 2015
  • I manage my stressFrench Federation of Cardiology
  • Stress Guide, April Foundation

Read also:

Subscribe to the Top Santé Newsletter to receive the latest news for free

We want to give thanks to the writer of this short article for this remarkable web content

Stress: causes, symptoms, risks and treatment

Discover our social media profiles and the other related pages