Friday, January 15, 2021

Signs & Symptoms of Stress


Modern life brings in its wake a fair number of situations that create stress. Life is more demanding and the requirements of modern day are far higher than they used to be. Sometimes the physiological and psychological stress can get too difficult to manage. We, therefore, need to be aware of the various ways in which stress can be managed and controlled.

In small doses stress is a good thing. It gives you the push that you need and keeps you alert. It is stress that drives you to stop watching television and prepare for the midterm exam or keeps you fully focused during a presentation at work. The emphasis, however, is on stress in “small doses”. Constant stress has a negative affect on your overall health.

To be able to manage stress efficiently and adequately, you need to first be aware of the various manners in which stress can be manifested. This is essentially to avoid a situation where you are suffering from stress related symptoms while being unaware of the real cause of the condition. Stress can affect your mind, your body and your behavior. The manifestation of these symptoms differs among individuals.

Generally, stress symptoms can be classified as under:

Cognitive symptoms

  • Emotional symptoms
  • Physical Symptoms
  • Behavioral Symptoms

While the manifestations of stress may vary, the root cause of all symptoms are the physiological changes triggered by the fight or flight response. When you face threat to your physical safety or emotional equilibrium, the body triggers various automatic processes that are part of the body’s natural defense mechanism.

Normally, when you are serene, in a relaxed and un-stimulated state, the nerve impulses from neurons are minimal. Any perception of danger or even an environmental stressor like elevated sound levels or excessive illumination relays a new stimulus from the sensory cortex of the brain through the hypothalamus to the brain stem. This leads to a flurry of nerve impulses that are meant to prepare the body to meet the new perceived or real situation. There is a sudden increase in heart beat, the muscles tense up and all the senses are on high alert. In fact, all body systems except those that are necessary to sustain life are kept on hold for as long as the threat is perceived.

If the body does not return to its normal relaxed state in due course of time, it can seriously damage your overall health. This is mainly because various other systems like the digestive system are kept functioning at a basic minimum level. This interferes with the normal metabolic process and disrupts processing of nutrients. With a relatively higher heart rate, the heart is prone to get exhausted and the possibilities of a heart failure increase.

Physical Symptoms

Do you have sweaty palms when you are waiting to make a presentation to your boss? Or is it that you suddenly start feeling cold while waiting at the airport to catch a flight? Or do you sometimes become completely numb and tongue tied in front of a senior professor? If you often experience such symptoms and the doctor does not attribute them to any specific health concern, there is a great likelihood that these symptoms are caused by stress.

It is often wondered about how a psychological condition like stress can result in totally unrelated physical symptoms like skin breakouts, diarrhea or for that matter constipation. The explanation lies in the state known as the hyper-arousal state.

The human body developed a stress response to prepare itself for to meet physical threats that were common in Stone Age. The body underwent drastic changes so as to provide the extra strength required for fighting or fleeing if an animal attacked, for instance.

Despite the fact that psychological threats are more rampant in modern life than physiological ones, the human body continues to respond to stressful situations in a physiological manner. Any threat, real or perceived, still brings about similar changes in our bodies. The complex human body that comprises of a system of reciprocal actions and reactions cannot balance the level of chemicals in the body. This disruption of chemical levels leads to physical symptoms that can appear in any part of the body.

Stress is often termed as a silent killer as chronic stress can hamper your overall health in more ways than one. Besides psychological symptoms, chronic stress can lead to a number of physical symptoms, some of which have a long lasting affect.

Some of the physical symptoms of stress include:

  • Muscle tension and stiffness
  • Low back pain
  • Muscle spasms or nervous tics
  • Sweaty palms
  • Butterflies in stomach
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches or backaches
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Skin breakouts (hives, eczema)
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Frequent colds

In addition to all these chronic stress also leads to some behavioral symptoms, which in turn can have serious repercussions. People suffering from constant stress are known to indulge in excessive smoking, alcohol and drug abuse. The long term effects of these are too well known to write about.

The bottom line, however, is that the symptoms of stress are triggered off only due to the manner in which you perceive situations, events and circumstances. Stress is a personal experience and stress symptoms depend largely on your vulnerability. Life situations cannot be expected to be always favorable. What you can do is to manage and avoid stress as much as you can by becoming more aware.

Emotional Symptoms

Stress, both chronic and severe, can result in emotional symptoms that may sometimes be misunderstood as behavioral changes. Additionally, many stress symptoms tend to mimic physical and mental ailments making it difficult to establish stress unequivocally. Confirming whether the symptoms being observed are related to stress or another ailment is something that can be done only by ruling out the possibility of other ailments at times.

Emotional stress symptoms occur generally when you have long periods on unresolved stress. Unresolved stress occurs when all attempts to remove the cause of stress come to not. This is typically the situation when you cannot come to terms with something that has occurred in your life. A huge loss in investments and a business that has gone bust are some specific situations where the cause of stress may take a while to manage. Sometimes stress does not get resolved if you are unable to refuse to accept certain events that go against your belief or upbringing.

Heightened and recurrent levels of stress result in the level of physiological arousal or the stress response to reach danger zone. This brings about the three major emotional symptoms of stress – anger, anxiety and depression.


Anger emanates from a feeling of helplessness at the inability to solve the issue. It often occurs in situations that are out of your control and therefore cannot be changed.


Anxiety occurs when you are unable to perform in a manner that you would like to. For example, you may want to be able to make presentations that are flamboyant and confident but may end up with tongue tied in front of a large audience. This can lead to repeated anxiety, every time you come close to a presentation date.


Depression is probably the last and most extreme emotional response to stress symptoms. It arises due to complete helplessness after having tried various options. Depression is a state of mind where you may have given up hope that things will ever get back to normal.

The fact of the matter is that you need the power of your intelligent thought and perception in times of stress. But the fact is that frequent episodes of acute stress can greatly affect the way you think and feel. It can hamper your thinking ability, make it difficult to take decisions, inhibit cognition and result in temporary loss of memory, the very things that you need the most in stressful situations. You are unable to think your way out of stress leading to poor decisions and even more stress.

What makes the situation even worse is that at the time when you are too stressed to think properly accompanying emotions like anger, anxiety and depression hit you at the same time. Taken together, these emotional symptoms can be mild, moderate or severe and may sometimes require professional help.

When emotions are compounded and become more intense they can become so powerful that they can overwhelm you completely causing you to lose self-control. The emotions sort of ‘boil over’ and you may feel anger or depressed or just scared.

The most important thing to realize and internalize during these times is the fact that the situation is actually as stressful as you want it to be. A positive mindset can help overcome the most difficult of situations without having to undergo the various emotional stress symptoms.

Work Related Stress Symptoms

Stress at workplace is a relatively new phenomenon but has already received worldwide attention. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has termed it as a global epidemic.

A survey reported in Psychology Today, asked 20,000 the emotion that they associated with money. A vast majority spontaneously associated money with anxiety, depression and anger – the three primary emotions associated with stress. Eventually, in a workplace setting these emotional stress symptoms translate into job related stress symptoms.

It does not take a survey for us to know that workplace can be a primary source of stress. The issue is so all pervasive that people who are employed, unemployed or about to be employed feel the stress alike. Those who are unemployed are stressed due to the lack of an earning. Those about to be employed worry about how their job will be like and whether they will like it. One would assume that those who have a job may not feel any stress. However, that is also not true.

Those who are employed face constant stress at workplace due to work pressures related to deadlines, difficult and demanding superiors, and competition among peers, interpersonal rivalry, backstabbing and credit stealing. Workplace stress for factory workers may directly be related to work environment or handling heavy machinery. The economic instability associated with work and potential job losses add to the complexity and the stressfulness of the situation.

Financial worries and fear of a job loss can be a primary source of stress. Economic instability produces fear, uncertainty and doubt in everyone’s mind. The only way to combat workplace stress is to understand the cause of stress and take objective and thoughtful decisions so as to combat the situation. This can only be done if you can free yourself from stress so as to be able to think clearly. For this, you need to understand when stress is taking a toll on your health, thinking ability and decision making capability. Some of the symptoms that you need to watch out for are:

  • Absenteeism
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of concentration
  • Inability to complete tasks on deadline
  • Short periods of blankness
  • Irritability at reaching home and stressed marital and familial relationships
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Extreme anger and frustration
  • Physical illnesses including cardiac problems, migraine, headaches, stomach problems, and back problems

Make sure that you address these issues seriously since workplace related stress can result in a spiral that continuously pulls you down.

Symptoms of Severe Stress

Some people believe that the causes of stress and the manifestations are the same for everyone. The reality, however, is that stress is an individual experience and is different for each of us. Different circumstances and events cause stress to different people. What you may consider as a threat may seem as a challenge to be overcome by another. There is also a huge difference between how people respond to stress.

Irrespective of the nature of the reaction to stress, the one kind of stress that needs immediate attention is severe stress. Acute or severe stress is mainly stress that is acute in nature and results in severe symptoms. In such a state, certain specific symptoms are likely to be magnified to a large extent. These symptoms can be a combination of physiological, psychological, behavioral and emotional symptoms.

Acute stress is different from chronic stress where specific symptoms may not be too acute but may last for a long period of time, sometimes being almost permanent. For example, if the health of a loved one is causing you stress, the stress may continue till the time the loved one actually gets better. If, in case, the case is complicated, you may continue to feel stressed for as long as the loved one is unwell. Sometimes the magnitude of chronic stress reaches such levels that the general physiological and behavioral symptoms become normal conditions.

Acute or sever stress, on the other hand, can cause certain very specific symptoms like panic attacks and the like. While short-lived, these symptoms can be difficult to manage since they are strong reactions that the body produces.

Severe stress symptoms include but not limited to:

  • Panic attacks
  • Tension headaches
  • Heartburns
  • Sudden change in bowel habits
  • Neuromuscular pains and aches
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Excessive anger
  • Temporary loss of cognitive abilities

Keep in mind that absence of symptoms does not mean absence of stress. Many medications will suppress the symptoms, yet the stress and tension still remains.

Gloria Brown
Women's health and wellness retreat leader providing vacations and trips for women to get in shape -- and stay that way! On you can find my articles about weight loss, health and women's issues. Please feel free to contact me on

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