Stressed Inside and Out

Stress has affected us at some point in our lives. Whether it’s burning the midnight oil cramming for an exam, really tight assessment deadlines or dealing with very uncooperative group project members (luckily not in this semester’s group project). We’ve been there. But, with stress being a major component of many mental health diseases, we need to be aware of it.

I’m ironically stressed out as I’m writing this post. Author’s own image, taken by Veronica Voo. 

The Science of Stress

Sometimes stress is necessary. It makes us alert and prepares our body for dire situations.  Imagine you’re gathering berries in a thick forest, quietly foraging for your favourite berries. Suddenly you hear a rumble…from a bush.

The bush rustles.

Uh…oh…Photo by Sleep Music on Unsplash

Meanwhile in your brain, the hypothalamus-pituitary-amygdala (HPA) axis, is already working on the ‘fight or flight response’. The HPA axis mediates this through modifying the involuntary neural response and initiating the body’s release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.

Your breathing rate increases. Breaths are frequent and shallow in an attempt to give more oxygen to the body and exhale carbon dioxide.

Stress also increases heart rate and blood pressure. With short-term stress, blood flow is prioritised to vital organs such as the brain and to skeletal muscles, delivering much needed oxygen.

Your muscles tense in an effort to reduce pain and injury from potential oncoming blows.

You look at the bear. The bear licks its lips.

You run.

Run! Photo by Thomas Lefebvre on Unsplash

Chronic Stress: A Modern Monster

Assuming that you’ve managed to not become a bear’s lunch, the stress response quickly subsides. But stress is only meant to be a short-term solution. Unfortunately, the body has similar responses to both emotional and physical threats. Chronic stress not only deteriorates mental health, but physical health too.

A study of Korean workers has shown that stress can suppress the immune inflammatory responses, making us more vulnerable to illness. No wonder that recently a nasty sore throat spread like wildfire amongst sleep deprived and stressed physiology students…including me.

Ever wondered why you can’t sleep well when you’ve got an exam coming up? That’s because stress also causes hyperarousal.

Chronic or repeated stress can also lead to headaches and migraines due repetitive muscle tension and damage blood vessels from high blood pressure.


Sometimes it all gets too much…Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash

How to Handle Stress?

So, what can you do to stop stress spiralling out of control? You could do the following:

In an age where chronic stress and mental health diseases are prevalent, the ability to manage stress is more important than ever.

If you’re in need of some guidance. The following resources are available:

Lifeline, call 131114

Beyond Blue, call 1300 22 4636

Unimelb Counselling and Psychological Services, call +61 3 8344 6927



Time to relax…Photo by Victor Garcia on Unsplash


10 Responses to “Stressed Inside and Out”

  1. I agree, Matthew, the ‘Don’t stress’ advice isn’t helpful. (Insert eye rolls and ‘Yeah duh’ response). Usually at this point we know not to stress excessively, but we don’t know how to cope. There are other resources which I didn’t mention, like Headspace which are aimed at youth. I just listed the resources that were more applicable to the general population and University of Melbourne students.

  2. Thanks Xiao Han, that’s what I am hoping too.

  3. Thank you arburgess! Actually, I think it was timely because I’m a bit stressed myself. So I really need to swallow my own advice. Hope that you’re doing well.

  4. Hi John,
    Thanks for the feedback. It’s important to take care of your mental health. I think the Unimelb student union is holding some free meditation sessions if you’re interested. Good luck for the rest of the semester.

  5. Hi Yvette,
    Great to hear that you’re taking care of yourself, just maybe not a marathon. Thanks!

  6. Matthew Graham says:

    I thought you explained your content really well. It was also really nice that you provided details on relieving stress and further helpful resources at the bottom. It can get sort of annoying when you are stressing about something, and the only ‘advice’ someone offers is “don’t stress”.

  7. Xiaohan Hu says:

    Nice post! Hope we could all get through those stressful hard times with good stress management methods.

  8. arburgess says:

    A very well written and timely blog!

  9. John Nguyen says:

    Great post Steph! A really important topic, especially when many of us have exams approaching or a thesis due soon. I’ve been trying to sleep and exercise more, but it’s great to know that mindfulness can help as well. Might try it soon!

  10. Yvette H. says:

    This was a great read Stephanie! Interesting that our brain has a similar response to emotional and physical stress – and the detrimental effects of chronic stress. I’ve certainly noticed around exam time I’m more likely to catch a cold. It’s good to know that exercise can help – perhaps this year I will add stress runs to my study schedule.