All You Need
In One Single
The Centre for Studies on Human Stress (CSHS) is dedicated to improving the physical and mental health of Canadians by empowering individuals with scientifically grounded information on the effects of stress on the brain and body.
Search here:

Recipe for stress

Home > Stress  > UNDERSTAND YOUR STRESS > Recipe for stress

While what stresses you is different from what stresses your neighbor, the recipe for stress is universal. So are the ingredients. For a situation to be stressful it must contain one or more of the following elements:

Stress ingredients

NOVELTYSomething new you have not experienced before
UNPREDICTABILITYSomething you had no way of knowing it would occur
THREAT TO THE EGOYour competence as a person is called into question
SENSE OF CONTROLYou feel you have little or not control over the situation


Do any of these sound familiar?

Novelty: You must learn a new computer software program from scratch and it completely changes your work habits. Or you are expecting your first child.

Take-home message

When faced with (or anticipating) a situation that is either novel, unpredictable, threatens our ego, or lowers our sense of control we all secrete stress hormones. Do you know when you are secreting stress hormones? Can you recognize YOUR stress?

Unpredictability: You learn that daycare workers and teachers will go on strike but you have no clue when. Or you have a moody boss with new demands every day.

Threat to the ego: A new employee keeps asking you why you do things a certain way as if doubting your methods. Or you are meeting your child’s teacher who asks you how much time you spend helping your child with homework.

Sense of Control: You are in a hurry to get to an important meeting and you get caught in a huge traffic jam. Or your child is diagnosed with a serious illness that leaves you powerless to help ease his/her suffering.

Novelty, unpredictability, threat to the ego, and a poor sense of control reliably elicit a stress response and the release of stress hormones. We do not develop stress-related problems like depression or heart disease by being exposed to stressors alone. It is our body’s response to these psychological stressors – the release of stress hormones – that can lead to poor health outcomes.

Stress as an equal opportunity factor

Children and older adults (65+) are less stressed than working adults, right? After all, they do not experience time pressure or work overload. Wrong, studies have shown that children and older adults are just as vulnerable and sometimes more vulnerable to the effects of stress.

Stress hormones are released in times of stress regardless of age, marital status, ethnicity, level of income, or level of education because the characteristics of a stressful situation remain the same for everyone. The ingredients are always novelty, unpredictability, threat to the ego, and poor sense of control.

The difference lies in the sources of N.U.T.S.




Threat to the Ego

Sense of Control

Example: For children, lack of control can come from parents going through a divorce. For parents, a big change at work can lower their sense of control.

Stress also weighs down on us in an additive way. More ingredients mean more stress.

Several factors determine the way our stress response system works and the amount of stress hormones we release. These include genetics, early life experiences, personality, the environment, and health status.

Expecting the Worst

Being in situations that involve N.U.T.S. causes the release of stress hormones. But the mere act of anticipating them also does the trick!

Example: At your weekly Tuesday staff meetings one coworker gets on your case every chance he/she gets. Knowing this, on Monday afternoon you start anticipating this stressor. You then may start thinking about it on Monday morning, then on Sunday night….

Anticipating a stressful situation can be worst than actually being in one because you can ruminate about it endlessly the whole time secreting stress hormones.