Identifying Stress

The difference between stress and anxiety:
Stress is a response to a threat (or perceived threat) in a situation.
Anxiety is a reaction to that stress.

By Katie Lovallo, MA, Mind Fit Performance (

Stress is a normal and natural part of life. Stress can have mental and physical symptoms, such as irritability, anger, muscle pain, digestive troubles, difficulty sleeping, racing thoughts, anticipatory thoughts, feeling overwhelmed, feeling unmotivated, trouble focusing, etc. Stress often has to do with our perceptions of events. Stress can also be positive and our bodies’ way of telling us it has something to say, so we should pay attention.

Anxiety is defined by persistent, excessive worries that don’t go away even in the absence of the stressor. Anxiety triggers the fight, flight, or freeze response, because your body is on high alert for danger or threats. Anxiety can cause nervousness, tension, panic, hyperventilation (rapid breathing), sweating, trembling, feeling weak or tired, trouble focusing.

Stress typically manifests two ways:

Body/Thoughts Stressors:
Internal/mental: Negative, doubtful, and/or worrisome thoughts, shallow breathing, racing heart, etc. These things manifest in real time or can be anticipatory.

Environmental Stressors:
External/physical: Stomachaches, nervous tics/habits, negative language, etc. These things manifest in real time or can be anticipatory.

Stressors lead to a Stress Reaction:

  • Hormonal changes
  • Increased respiration rate
  • Decreased digestion
  • Increased heart rate (HR)

Stressors + Stress Reaction = Stress

Good Stress (Eustress)

Some levels of stress are normal and natural, and can actually benefit you. Viewing stress as good stress has a lot to do with perspective. Eustress typically has similar physiological reactions to distress, but it lacks fear. With eustress, your pulse quickens and hormones surge (like when you’re excited, before a test or race, or someone startles you).

Eustress can feel exciting, help direct your energy, help motivate you, improve performance, feel exciting, and is typically short term. This kind of stress is natural and beneficial, and kick starts hormones that help you react to what’s happening around you.


How do you know if you are overstressed?

Our bodies typically hold clues when we’re overstressed. Signs include:

  • Headaches and body aches
  • Light-headedness
  • Depression (persistently sad, hopeless, or empty feeling)
  • Anxiety (worrisome, fearful)
  • Stuttering
  • Frequently sick (colds, illnesses)
  • Stuttering
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping/nightmares
  • Upset stomach/GI issues
  • Wetting the bed
  • Sweaty palms
  • Shaky hands


Possible Causes of Negative Sports Stress in Youth

  • Wanting to perform well.
  • Wanting to please a parent or coach.
  • Pressure to win.
  • Wanting to look good in front of their peers.
  • Starting a new season, a new sport, or joining a new team.
  • Having high or unrealistic expectations placed on them either by coach, parent, or self.


Signs/symptoms of youth sports stress may include:

  • Anxiety, worry, nervousness about sport, self-doubt.
  • Unable to relax.
  • New or recurring fears (fear of sport participation, fear of not performing well, fear of judgment by others).
  • Not wanting to go to practice or games.
  • Clinging, unwilling to let you out of sight.
  • Anger, crying, whining, moodiness, aggression, stubbornness.
  • Not able to control emotions.
  • Trouble focusing.
  • Development of a nervous habit, such as nail biting or a nervous tic.


How can someone be ready for stress?

Being ready for stress means having a positive relationship with and awareness of your stress. Knowing how stress affects you is key. Stress is an opportunity for learning. It’s your body’s way of telling you to pay attention. Practice listening to it.

So ask yourself, what is my body trying to tell me? What triggers my stress? How does my stress manifest?


Learn more about what you can do to recognize and prevent stress: