Stress: Signs and Symptoms

Learn to recognize stress symptoms and to learn to identify the situations that evoke them. When these symptoms persist, you are at risk for serious health problems because stress can exhaust your immune system.

Stress is the mind's response to any pressure that disrupts its normal balance. It occurs when our perception of events doesn't meet our expectations and we are unable to manage our reaction. As a response, stress expresses itself as resistance, tension, strain or frustration that throws off our physiological and psychological equilibrium, keeping us out of sync. If our equilibrium is disturbed for long, the stress can become disabling. According to the American Institute of Stress, up to 90% of all health problems are related to stress. Too much stress can contribute to and agitate many health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, depression and sleep disorders.

It is not possible to live without any stress. We can, however, learn ways to handle the stress of daily life efficiently, and to manage our reactions to stress and minimize its negative impact.

What are the symptoms of stress?

Physical symptoms

Physical symptoms can be caused by other illnesses, so it is important to have a medical doctor treat conditions such as ulcers, compressed disks, or other physical disorders. Remember, however, that the body and mind are not separate entities. The physical problems outlined below may result from or be exacerbated by stress:

* sleep disturbances
* back, shoulder or neck pain
* tension or migraine headaches
* upset or acid stomach, cramps, heartburn, gas, irritable bowel syndrome
* constipation, diarrhea
* weight gain or loss, eating disorders
* hair loss
* muscle tension
* fatigue
* high blood pressure
* irregular heartbeat, palpitations
* asthma or shortness of breath
* chest pain
* sweaty palms or hands
* cold hands or feet
* skin problems (hives, eczema, psoriasis, tics, itching)
* periodontal disease, jaw pain
* reproductive problems
* immune system suppression: more colds, flu, infections
* growth inhibition

Emotional symptoms

Like physical signs, emotional symptoms such as anxiety or depression can mask conditions other than stress. It is important to find out whether they are stress-related or not. In either case, the following emotional symptoms are uncomfortable and can affect your performance at work or play, your physical health, or your relationships with others:

* nervousness, anxiety
* depression, moodiness
* butterflies
* irritability, frustration
* memory problems
* lack of concentration
* trouble thinking clearly
* feeling out of control
* substance abuse
* phobias
* overreactions

Relational symptoms

The antisocial behavior displayed in stressful situations can cause the rapid deterioration of relationships with family, friends, co-workers, or even strangers. A person under stress may manifest signs such as:

* increased arguments
* isolation from social activities
* conflict with co-workers or employers
* frequent job changes
* road rage
* domestic or workplace violence
* overreactions

Severe stress reactions that persist for long periods of time and recur without warning after a traumatic event or even after an intense experience such as an accident, hospitalization, or loss, may become a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) requiring professional assistance to overcome. For that reason, it is important to recognize the symptoms of stress and learn what to do about them.