Making Sense of Stress 2017

Year of Stress


‘Stress in health and disease is medically, sociologically, and philosophically the most meaningful subject for humanity that I can think of’. -Hans Selye


What pops into your head when you think about stress? Is it something positive or negative? Does it affect your body, your mind, or both? We all know what stress feels like. Racing heart, sweaty palms, tense muscles - the whole shebang. Beneath these symptoms lies a complex system of stimulus (stressor) and response (stress). One of the earliest and most renowned stress researchers, Hans Selye, recognised already in the mid-1900s that our stress response impacts almost every organ system in the human body. 


The stressors, or the cause, can vary in nature (physical, chemical, or psychological) and valence (positive/negative). Selye, a fan of creating new terms, referred to positive stress as eustress and negative stress as distress. He also split the stress response into three stages: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. Towards the end of his career, Selye took on the view that stress is not what happens to you, but how you react to it. Hopefully, the better we understand how stress works in the body, the more we can optimise our reactions. 


In 2017, we will be ‘Making Sense of Stress’ across all areas of our work including events, outreach, education, policy, and our journals. Let us know if you want to get involved and follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #YearOfStress.



We all know how stressful exam time can be. To help students cope, we created an animation entitled Conquering exam stress: lessons from our bodies aimed at school students showing how stress works in the body, and giving tips for how to take control.

We launched it on 8 May, at the start of Mental Health Awareness Week and in time for exam season. Our hope is that by helping promote an understanding of what's happening in our bodies when we feel stressed as well as giving simple, effective suggestions, we can encourage students to make stress work for them. 


Over the summer we’ve been stressing out the public at fairs and festivals! Our activities have challenged participants to take part in physical and mental activities while we monitor what happens to their heart rate and blood pressure. So far we’ve taken activities to Lancashire Science FestivalLambeth Country ShowSunderland Air show and the International Biology Olympiad in Warwick, with Ipswich Martine Festival and Basildon Fair still to come. 

Our outreach activities

Other great activities to look out for include a Night at the Vet College themed around Stress, and the Stress Zone in I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here



In January, Dr Kimberley Bennett’s gave a lecture on ‘Making sense of stress in the wild’, at the Association for Science Education’s (ASE’s) Annual Conference. Read about it on our blog


In February, we held a public lecture about work-related stress featuring neuroscientist Stafford Lightman, occupational psychologist Gail Kinman, and chaired by Geoff McDonald. Watch the full lecture or read about it on our blog


In April, we held a Topic Meeting on ‘The Neurobiology of Stress' as part of BNA 2017: Festival of Neuroscience in Birmingham. It included four symposia:


  • Stress and Cardiovascular Control
  • Behavioural and Emotional Aspects of Stress
  • Influences of Stress on Neurodegeneration/Neurogenesis
  • The Neuroendocrinology of Stress

There also was a plenary lecture on 'The neurobiology of stress and stress-related disorders' by Alon Chen of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry.



Issues of Physiology News throughout the year feature articles about stress including: stress and the immune system, mindfulness, the pros and cons of cortisol as an indicator, and more. 

Physiology News 106      Physiology News 107


Our policy team has been investigating what stresses out the nation. A survey of over 2000 people carried out with polling firm YouGov revealed that women report experiencing greater stress than men for every life event we asked them about. 

Highly stressful events ranged from age-old problems like illness or relationship breakdown to modern stresses such as commuting delays or losing your smartphone. Suffering through stresses such as these has been shown to have physiological consequences which can lead to serious problems over time. Analysis of the demographic trends in the results show some interesting variations. 

The report has been featured in the national press, including The Times, The Telegraph and The Daily Mirror. Read more in our press release and on our blog, and check out the full report



The Journal of Physiology and Experimental Physiology have compiled virtual issues about topics within stress.


Cardiovascular shear stress

Endocrinology- obesity and diabetes


GI disorders and nutrition


Pregnancy/prenatal stress

Skeletal Muscle Stress


Cardiovascular shear stress

Endocrinology- obesity and diabetes



Skeletal Muscle Stress