Stress management

Stress management

Recognise and manage stress

  • Recognise the signs** of stress.
  • Identify the different types of stress, their manifestations and their repercussions on health.
  • Give keys to prevent and manage it.


1. Definition

"Stress occurs when there is an imbalance between a person's perception of the constraints imposed by their environment and their own resources to cope with them. (Definition of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work). It is linked to 2 factors :

  • the stressor: external factor linked to the environment.
  • Stressability: an internal factor linked to individual receptivity to stressors.

Stress = Stressors X Stressability

The symptom is an indicator of dysfunction of the body.

Stress is an indicator of brain dysfunction, an error in reasoning, in behaviour, and that there are other ways to deal with the situation considered hostile.


2. Physiology

Stress is :

  • an individual, instinctive, pre-programmed defence system (a specific and stereotyped response for each person)
  • intended to protect us from an environment considered hostile (General Adaptation Syndrome)
  • activated by a situation** and deactivated by the disappearance of this situation or a reaction of the individual to get out of it
  • internal, unconscious, and which has to do with our thoughts, our mind

Ex: public speaking, unexpected situation, change of position.

3. Mechanism of stress, adaptation over time and effect on health

1st time and 1st level of stress:

In response to an acute aggression, an almost immediate defence response arises in the most archaic part of our brain: the reptilian brain.

This defence response leads to the activation and mobilisation of various stress adaptation systems, as well as the organs that are responsible for the manifestations of stress:

  • acceleration of the heart and respiratory rate
  • vasodilatation with the impression of an increase in body temperature
  • muscle and bladder contraction
  • increased oxygen supply to the brain and organs: increased alertness and physical reactivity.

This is acute stress (physiological stress) These manifestations disappear when the situation considered hostile disappears.

2nd time and 2nd level of stress:

When the situation considered as hostile persists, a phase of resistance appears. The adaptation systems are over-mobilised.

3rd time and 3rd level of stress:

When the situation considered hostile becomes established in the long term, there is no longer any control over the systems that are activated and in permanent overdrive (decompensation). Moreover, this situation is recorded as stressful, at the level of memory, in the limbic brain which is the brain of emotions. This is why previous stressful situations have been encoded in connection with negative emotions that will be reactivated. This is where the stressability of each individual comes in.

This is chronic stress, with psycho-affective (psychoaffective stress) and somatic (somatic stress) manifestations:

  • loss of intellectual capacity, time, energy, efficiency
  • impulsiveness. Closure to others
  • depression, anxiety, suicidal risk
  • increased blood sugar and lipids/cholesterol: diabetes, hypercholesterolemia
  • increased heart rate with high blood pressure: cardiovascular disease
  • decrease in inflammatory manifestations and immune response: musculoskeletal disorders, immuno-allergic disorders...

4th stage:

The extreme stage is Burn out or burnout syndrome (see dedicated sheet). This is a particular case of chronic stress.



4. Some figures:

Professionals in the field of PSR (Psychosocial Risks) have established that stress costs France between 2 and 3 billion euros each year (INRS and Arts et Métiers Paris Tech data - 2007). At the European level, the cost of work-related stress is estimated to be about 20 billion euros per year.

Stress is also estimated to be the cause of 50 to 60% of all lost working days (European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 1999).


As a manager, what are some ways to prevent and manage stress, both yours and your employees'? How can you act on both stressors (external) and stressability (internal)?

1. Knowing the regulatory aspects: your duties as a manager

The employer is bound by obligations of means and results (ensuring the safety and protecting the physical and mental health of employees).

"To fulfil this obligation, he/she relies on the principles of collective prevention among which (Article L.4121-2 of the Labor Code):

  • Combating risks at source and adapting work to the individual:
  • adapted workstations,
  • choice of work and production methods to limit monotonous and rhythmic work,
  • technical support for operators to carry out their activities,
  • adaptation of workloads...
  • Plan prevention by integrating technology, organisation and working conditions, social relations and the influence of environmental factors (moral and sexual harassment). To implement the prevention strategy, the employer relies on the occupational health service.

2. Limit the physical impact of stress and regain control.

  • provide a soundproofed, adapted and, if necessary, personalised work environment, as well as areas for relaxation
  • Encourage regular physical activity, a balanced diet and adequate sleep
  • learn to relax: breathe calmly, relax your muscles
  • manage and control your schedule by establishing your urgencies and priorities
  • establish where one's professional added value lies, and whether one's motivations and values are taken into account

3. Manage and maintain positive professional relationships.

  • develop assertiveness to assert oneself calmly and constructively
  • defend one's rights while respecting those of others
  • adopt non-violent communication.

4. Change your state of mind in the face of stress by switching to the "pre-frontal attitude ".

Changing one's state of mind in the face of stress consists in switching to the "pre-frontal attitude" to calm the automatic pilot constituted by the limbic brain. To do this, we give priority to the pre-frontal cortex, the place of adaptation, reflection, balanced decisions and personal control.

It is to move from an automatic mode of functioning to an adaptive mode.


1. To limit the physical impact of stress and regain control

  • Are my environment and my work space arranged in such a way as to limit stress (noise, comfort, personalisation)?
  • Do I have a lifestyle that limits the physical impact of stress: sleep, diet, physical activities?
  • Do I take the time to relax?
  • How do I manage my time? Do I organise myself to give priority to what is important, without being overwhelmed by what is urgent?
  • Do I respond to my deepest motivations, to what is meaningful to me in my work?

What do I decide to change?

2. Managing and maintaining positive professional relationships

  • Do I take the initiative to express myself spontaneously in a group? to get to know everyone, to dare to express my tastes and preferences without justifying myself?
  • Do I know how to say "I" and "no" to a request, in a calm and respectful way? Can I ask clear and direct questions?
  • Do I know how to listen to others, recognise their good ideas and proposals?
  • Can I express my disagreement and explain why in a rational way?

How can I develop these elements?

3. Changing your mindset in the face of stress

  • Do I have a spirit of curiosity when faced with a change, something new, or do I prefer routine?
  • When faced with a situation, do I accept its reality, or do I stick to my guns?
  • In my representations, am I nuanced, or do I tend to simplify?
  • Do I function with the notion of relativity or certainty?
  • Are my decisions and choices based on logical reflection and personal choices, or do I let myself be guided by my feelings, empiricism or the appropriate social image?

How can I change my mindset?