Stress & Stressors


Learning how to cope with stress is an important part of development.” – Center on the Developing Child

How much do you already know about stress?

Did you know that there are three types of stress and different types of stressors?

Keep reading to learn more.

Stress & Self-Reg’s 5 Domains of Stressors

Now that we understand how our body responds to stress (see: What is Self-Regulation?), let’s look at what stress is and what stressors are, defined by Dr. Stuart Shanker, Founder and Visionary of The MEHRIT Centre:

Stress: anything that requires our internal system to burn energy in order to maintain some sort of internal balance.

Stressors: an event or experience that triggers stress.

Dr. Stuart Shanker identifies stressors across 5 domains:

While the examples of stressors provided from the links below have been tailored to children and their learning, many of them are stressors that adults can relate to having as well. (Visit: Stressors in the 5 Domains of Self-Reg for a list of more examples to the ones provided below)

The Biological Domain
  • Biological: Internal or external stressors that affect our physiological system
    • e.g., hunger, feeling sick, a loud noise, screen time
  • Emotion: Stressors related to strong emotions, both positive and negative
    • e.g., fears, change of routine, excitement, grief/loss
  • Cognitive: Stressors related to difficulty processing certain information
    • e.g., time pressure, learning something new, boredom, multi-tasking
  • Social: Social stressors, related to social cues and the behaviour of self and others
    • e.g., social media, peer pressure, confrontation, meeting someone new
  • Prosocial: Stressors related to difficulty coping with the stress of others
    • e.g., empathy/sympathy, a sad friend, watching the news, injustice

The 3 Types of Stress

  • Positive: A stressor that is moderate and short-lived, resulting in brief increases in heart rate and blood pressure. This kind of stress is normal, essential to healthy development and is buffered by protective factors such as a positive support system made up of family, friends and/or healthy lifestyle practices.
    • e.g., The first day on the job/of school, meeting new people, dealing with frustration, giving a presentation
  • Tolerable: A more sereve stressor that could have long-term consequences but is buffered by protective factors such as a positive support system and healthy lifestyle practices.
    • e.g., Dealing with the illness or loss of a loved one, recovering from an injury, adjusting to a global pandemic
  • Toxic: A threatening and adverse stressor that results in frequent and prolonged activation of the stress response system. These types of stressors lack the presence of protective factors such as a support system.
    • e.g., Experiencing abuse or exposure to violence, extreme poverty, turbulent living situations

These types of stress are especially important to be mindful of for young children and teens. This is because their brain’s are in the process of development and don’t fully develop until their mid-20s (particularly the prefrontal cortex – the thinking part of the brain), and because their health and well-being are dependant on protective factors such as the care and support of the adults in their lives. These adults are also the ones that help them to self-regulate and develop the healthy lifestyle practices that they will carry with them throughout adulthood.

Dealing with Stress

As with any type of stress (mainly positive and tolerable), having protective factors such as a buffer (caring and supporting people in your life to help you manage the stress and recover from it) is one of the greatest ways to deal with stress. When there is a lack of a buffer, defense mechanisms or poor and harmful coping strategies may ensue.

A young child with great stress and no buffer could experience impairments to brain development (detrimental at a time when their brain is developing; see: Brain Development in the Early Years). As a result, this child may have difficultly with:

  • Self-regulation: managing stress and different stressors
  • Engaging in social interactions
  • Forming relationships with others
  • Identifying, expressing and managing their emotions
    • They may be easily triggered and reactive or subdued and withdraw (fight, fight, freeze responses)
  • Developing healthy coping strategies; potentially resulting in maladaptive behaviours

Long-Term Effects of Stress on the Body

Since our nervous system plays a role in our stress response, too much stress over a long period of time is harmful to our brain and body. Prolonged activation of our body’s stress response system can:

How Stress Affects Your Body
  • Impact the cardiovascular system, especially if the body is constantly pumping oxygen to the heart and releasing adrenaline when under a lot of stress
  • Elevate blood pressure, which can impact the heart
  • Affect metabolism since glucose pumps into the bloodstream giving you a burst of energy, chronic activation can result in metabolic problems
  • Cause hormonal imbalances
  • Lead to gut and digestive challenges (see: Brain-Gut Connection)
  • Impact mental health
  • Increase vulnerability to cold and illnesses (since our immune system is vulnerable to stress)

While these are only some of the impacts of stress, my hope is that with this understanding you may be better able to recognize the different types of stress that you may be experiencing, identify the particular stressors that are impacting you the most, and be able to develop strategies and daily practices that work to help you manage them effectively.

Explore the Health & Lifestyle sections throughout this website for ways to take care of your overall health and well-being. Here are a few of the many topics available:

5 Ways to Boost Your Immune System

Self-Care is Not Selfish

Mindfulness & Meditation. What’s the Difference?

The Brain-Gut Connection

The stress that anyone experiences and how they manage it is different per person. Please practice care and compassion for yourself and those in need.

See More on Stress and Stressors (below) for additional resources.

This is solely provided for informational purposes. If you are concerned about your health, that of a child or someone you know, I encourage you to take care of yourself and seek professional support (if needed).

More on Stress and Stressors

Visit: Self-Reg: Stressors in the 5 Domains

Visit: Self-Reg: Recognize Stressors

Visit: Self-Reg in 60 Seconds with Dr. Stuart Shanker

Got questions? Contact Me

What is Stress?

The Brain Architects Podcast: Toxic Stress: Protecting the Foundation


This website is provided only for informational purposes and not intended to be used to replace professional advice, treatment or professional care. Always speak to your physician, healthcare provider or pediatrician if you have concerns about your own health or the health of a child.

2 thoughts on “Stress & Stressors

  1. Hi Samantha,

    I love all of the videos you’ve added to deepen our understanding about stress. I love that is provides visual and auditory learning to help it all make sense. I could see myself using some of these videos in my classroom with my older students.

    Wow, stress is terrifying! It may be the worst thing that can be done to our well-being. It’s so important that we take the time and energy to learn self-care routines and rituals so that when faced with stress or a stressor we will be more resilient. I’m finding that having a morning self-care routine to start my day has been very refreshing as I purposely set aside an hour to practice self-love which allows me to take on the day ahead with no fears or negative energy. Do you have any recommendations for books that I could read about self-love and self-care?

    1. Hi Kaitlin,

      Thank you for your comment!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the videos. I always find something visual very helpful in remembering anything I’m learning!

      You know what, a lot about stress has to do with how we interpret it. One of the things I’ve learned is about taking a negative and turning it into a positive. And in fact, stress is actually what stretches us to grow, thrive and develop resiliency. It’s really in how we manage and perceive it, as well as the support systems we have around us to get us through it (we are after all social beings). Positive stress is good for us, tolerable stress is manageable, (granted we have a support system), and toxic stress is.. well, toxic, and a lack thereof a support system. However, stress is experienced differently per person.

      I agree! Having a self-care routine is so important in managing stress and I’m really glad to hear you have one 🙂

      There are few great books out there, some that come to mind are:
      – Untamed by Glennon Doyle
      – Vibrate Higher Daily: Live Your Power by Lalah Delia
      – I Am That Girl: How to Speak Your Truth, Discover Your Purpose, and #bethatgirl by Alexis Jones
      – Kindness Boomerang: How to Save the World (and Yourself) Through 365 Daily Acts: by Orly Wahba

Leave a Reply