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Stress symptoms

Knowing the symptoms of stress is an important step in understanding your condition

While most people are aware of the common symptoms of stress, there are also a number of more serious symptoms that arise from prolonged, acute or severe stress. Marianna Kilburn, our stress advisor, discusses these mental, emotional and physical symptoms.

An introduction to stress symptoms

We know when we feel stressed because of the symptoms we experience.

When a situation we are in is overwhelming or difficult to cope with, we feel under pressure and mentally strained. These are the symptoms of stress, and they are similar to symptoms of anxiety.

Understanding typical stress symptoms, both mental and physical, will help you work out how well you are coping in a situation and whether or not you are suffering from stress. An awareness of symptoms will also help you tackle any stressful situation, diffusing it before it gets out of control.

Stress is sometimes a necessary and positive response of our bodies. For example, it speeds up reaction time when stepping on the brakes, avoiding a collision with the stationary car in front of you.

Mental and emotional symptoms of stress

These symptoms tend to be most noticeable with chronic stress. They can be grouped into three main categories:

  • Feelings – most people only become aware of being stressed when they begin to feel more irritable or short tempered than normal, or perhaps become despondent and uninterested. Often small things will trigger an exaggerated response. You may also develop anxiety and low mood. If allowed to become severe, some people may lose self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Thoughts – these play an important role in day-to-day functioning. When stressed, your thoughts race from one thing to another and it may become very difficult for you to concentrate or focus on one task. This makes it less likely that you will complete things, causing you more stress. You may also become forgetful and exhibit poor judgement
  • Responses – How you respond to a situation often alters when you are feeling stressed. You may plunge yourself into a problem before thinking it through fully. At other times you may avoid making a decision or performing a task because of stress.

The physical symptoms of stress

These are most noticeable when stress is acute. The main physical symptoms are:

  • Pounding heart
  • Racing heart
  • Muscles tightening or becoming tense
  • Blood pressure rising
  • Fast shallow breathing
  • Senses become sharper
  • Needing the toilet frequently to empty bladder or bowels.

These physical effects help the body protect itself from potential danger by increasing strength and stamina, speed of reactions and helping the mind become more alert. They appear with positive stress (eg. going on stage to receive an award), but with these situations, stress is usually temporary and not harmful.

Stress that is prolonged is negative and this is why it gives us problems, including the development of other physical symptoms such as:

  • Vague aches and pains
  • Gastrointestinal problems including diarrhoea, constipation and nausea
  • Skin problems such as acne or psoriasis
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Weakened immune system, leading to recurrent colds or other infections.

If stress is severe, it may also lead to further health issues, such as high blood pressure or depression. If this is the case, then it is important to visit your doctor for advice.

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