Signs and Symptoms

Signs of stress can go unnoticed by many individuals, leading to a host of psychological, social and physical health consequences in the long run. From reduced productivity to compromised heart health, stress can take a toll on virtually every aspect of life. By familiarizing yourself with the classic signs of stress, you can better identify periods of high or prolonged stress and seek lifestyle adjustments, personal education and professional mental health treatments for stress reduction.

Physical Signs of Stress

Stress takes a toll on the body, from chronic headaches to shortened longevity. Stress cues can start as small cues, in the form of a single muscle twitch or rapidly increasing pulse.
List of Physical Signs of stress::

  • Chronic Headaches
    While not all headaches originate from stress, many times stress can contribute to frequent headaches. Long hours in front of computer monitors, improper lighting, poor nutrition and other secondary causes of headaches can also stem from work or emotional stress due to self-neglect. Prolonged stress can even lead to the development of migraine headaches.
  • Back and Muscular Pain
    Our bodies hold tension within our muscles. Combined with improper self-care during periods of stress, this can lead us to carry tension in both our backs and throughout our bodies. The result can be sore, tired muscles, muscular weakness from disuse and even chronic back problems.
  • Chest Discomfort or Pain
    Chest pains should never be presumed to originate from stress – and regardless, they can indicate serious health risks. As such, your first response to any chest discomfort or pain should be a trip to your primary care physician. However, unexplained tension in the chest area can originate from undue stress over prolonged periods of time, as well as secondary responses to chronic anxiety.
  • Cardiopulmonary Issues
    One of the worst outcomes of stress on the body is the ability to affect the cardiopulmonary system. Stress can heighten your risk of heart disease, cause arrhythmia or tachycardia and raise your blood pressure – all increasing your odds of a heart attack or stroke.
  • Frequent Illnesses
    Decreased immunity is one of the potential outcomes of ongoing stress, exacerbated by poor nutritional, sleep and exercise patterns that often accompany high-stress periods.
  • Abdominal Pain or Illnesses
    The abdomen can also be affected greatly by periods of stress. Loose stools, constipation, upset stomach and even conditions such as certain forms of ulcers or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can also be stress-related.
  • Insomnia or Hypersomnia
    Sleep patterns often become disrupted during periods of stress. Most commonly, individuals will experience interrupted sleep, lack of REM sleep, insomnia – or even in some cases – hypersomnia.

Emotional and Psychological Signs of Stress

Of course, stress doesn’t simply take its toll on the body; it wears on our psyches and emotions as well. Here are some of the emotional and psychological signs that the stress load you’re carrying may have become too heavy a burden for too long.
List of Emotional Symptoms of stress::

  • Anxiety
    From restlessness to panic attacks replete with a racing heart rate and breathing problems, anxiety can plague individuals undergoing periods of high stress. From waking in the middle of the night with chronic worrying to experiencing distracted thoughts when attempting to accomplish a task, anxiety often works to exacerbate the stress we’re under.
  • Anger and Depression
    Mood can become greatly affected by stress levels. Angry outbursts that seemingly come out of nowhere or the onset of depression may be indicators that your stress level has gotten too high. (See Signs of Anger and Signs of Depression).
  • Lowered Self Image
    Self-image can become severely compromised by stress, as perfectionism rises to the top and performance lowers due to high stress levels. Lowered self-esteem can segue to depression, create high anxiety levels or cause a loss of motivation due to constant pressure and self-criticism.
  • Difficulty Concentrating
    Concentration can also be impeded by chronic stress. Lowered attention span and lack of focus are common responses in high-stress situations.

Behavioral Signs of Stress

Finally, stress can become apparent within observable changes in our daily approach and behavior. Here are a few behavioral cues that may indicate stress levels that have become burdensome.
List of Behavioral Issues Related to Stress::

  • Lowered Productivity
    Despite efforts to accomplish more under stress, productivity levels actually descend when we suffer from mental stress. Inevitably, burnout lowers productivity even further, as our physical, mental and emotional resources become drained.
  • Memory Lapses
    Individuals under stress can develop a host of memory problems, from lowered short-term recall, compromised verbal and spatial memory, and even difficulty in the formation of memories.
  • Eating Disorders, Substance Abuse and Addiction
    In some cases, stress becomes so difficult to bear that many individuals find unhealthy ways to cope and escape. For some, high stress and feelings of a loss of control can lead to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia or compulsive eating disorder. In others, self-medication takes place through the use of drugs and alcohol, leading to full-fledged addiction.
  • Social Isolation
    If you have isolated yourself from friends and family, it may be an indicator that stress levels are fostering social withdrawal.
  • Relationship Conflict
    Communication, negotiation and bonding never fare well under periods of high stress. Relationship struggles, frequent arguments, lowered libido and physical violence are all signs that stress levels have risen dangerously high.

The Need for Stress Treatment Why Does Excessive Stress Need Treatment?

Walter Canon described stress in terms of the “fight-or-flight” response. Research conducted by Canon showed that when an animal (including humans) senses danger their body releases hormones that start a cascade of activity in the body. These hormones make our hearts pump harder and faster (increasing our heart rate and blood pressure), send more oxygen to our major muscles, increase sweating to keep cool and divert blood from our extremities to our cores which would minimize blood loss if we were harmed. At the same time, our focus becomes exclusively set on the perceived threat. All of these events ensure the best opportunity to survive potentially lethal situations.

Regrettably, these life-saving biological processes have the potential to cause damage when we experience them in excess and without a physical outlet. Fight-or-flight implies that energy will be released either in a physical confrontation or by fleeing the situation. However, in modern society neither of these scenarios generally happens during stressful circumstances. Usually our stress occurs at home, in our car or at work where physical altercations or running away are not socially acceptable ways of dealing with our problems.

Who Is Most Likely to Need Stress Treatment?

How well a person copes with stress is completely individualized. There are no definitive rules to predict who will manage stress well and who will not. The degree to which a person experiences stress in their lives is reliant on a number of factors. These include:

  • Quality of a social support network
  • Number of people dependent on the individual
  • Number of commitments
  • Quality of nutrition
  • Amount of sleep
  • Number of traumatic events occurring simultaneously

Another important aspect to observe when estimating an individual’s level of stress is a major life transition. An important change in life can occur at any time, but there are a few groups prone to have them more often than others. These groups include teens, the elderly and working parents.

Behavior ProblemsWhen to Seek Stress Treatment

The first thing to do when you are experiencing the symptoms of high levels of stress is talk to your doctor. A medical problem could be causing your issues. If an underlying biological cause has been ruled out then relying on your social network may also yield some answers. However, if your family, friends or spiritual advisers cannot help you find the root cause of your stress or a resolution to the pressure you feel then mental health treatment may be your next step.

A combination of mental health treatments such as counseling, psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, biofeedback and/or prescription medications could help you manage the stress you are facing. These therapies can assist an individual in understanding the source of their stress. In addition, mental health professionals can teach healthy coping skills that a person can utilize to reduce their current and future stress.

Where to Find Stress Treatment

If life feels overwhelming for you or someone you care about then it is time to seek help. Let us assist you in finding a stress treatment program that is individualized to your needs. We can connect you to high-caliber programs all across the US. Contact us today and take the first step toward living a more balanced and peaceful life.