Chapter 2: Stressors and challenges

Stress or grief?

What the palliative care experts say
Dr. Kevin Brazil, professor of palliative care, discusses how short- and long-term factors wear on the entire healthcare system when it becomes stressed.(3:22)Video transcript

“I already work in a high stress environment. Now with COVID-19, we're constantly short staffed, everyone is anxious. We keep going but we're all waiting for the bad to get worse." – Head cook, long-term care facility

Stress and grief are not the same. Grief almost always involves some degree of stress. Stress does not always include grief.  Stress exerts a significant influence on people working in healthcare and can affect how we respond to grief.

Grief is a normal reaction to any loss. It can impact your body, your emotions and your behaviour.  

Stress is how the brain and the body respond to any type of demand. It is often a response to competing pressures and challenges. Stress can help you develop coping abilities and resiliency. However, when stress starts to overwhelm you, it is no longer positive. 

Stress reactions

  • Faster or stronger heartbeat
  • Muscle tension
  • Tensions may arise in your relationships
  • Anxious
  • Edgy
  • Irritable
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Stress appears in various ways. Physically you may experience a faster or stronger heartbeat or muscle tension to name a few. Emotionally you may feel very anxious, edgy or irritable. New tensions may arise in your relationships. 

The effects of acute or short-term stress do not usually last for long; but if we experience ongoing stress, it can become chronic and can have serious, negative effects on your health and well-being.

Grief reactions

  • Fatigued and poor sleep
  • Stomach clenching
  • Heart literally aching
  • Isolation and withdrawing from social interactions
  • Restlessness
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Self-criticism
  • Guilt
  • Helplessness
  • Numbness
Click on each item on the left

Reactions to grief and stress can be very similar.

Understanding what we are experiencing

Examining our experiences and feelings can help us understand whether they are responses to stress or grief. Figuring this out can be a bit tricky. Sometimes it is quite clear which is which; other times it’s more challenging. There are also times when we are experiencing both stress and grief. 

The effects of short-term stress do not usually last for long. If we experience ongoing stress, it can become chronic and can have serious, negative effects on your health and well-being. Identifying what we are experiencing can be a step towards developing effective coping strategies.

Roll your mouse over the boxes below for examples.





An effective response to stress is to start to explore ways to reduce it.





An effective response to grief is to acknowledge that it is normal and to find ways to move through it.