16 Signs of Stress

Apr 25, 2022 Stress

16 Signs of Stress

Quick Health Scoop

  • A 2022 survey shows that U.S. adults are feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
  • Signs of stress include both physical symptoms (sleep problems, mind and body tension) and emotional symptoms (irritability, difficulty focusing, forgetfulness).
  • Chronic stress can negatively impact both your mental and physical health, leading to (or increasing risk for) serious health issues.
  • To cope better, learn some quick stress relief tips (such as physical activity and deep breathing exercises) as well as long-term stress management techniques (getting adequate sleep, eating healthy).

As a normal part of life, stress is our body’s reaction to change or challenging circumstances. However, the past two years of the pandemic have piled on excess worries. According to a “Stress in America” poll co-conducted by the American Psychological Association in February 2022, “U.S. adults appear to be emotionally overwhelmed and showing signs of fatigue.” Most adults (87%) agreed that “it feels like there has been a constant stream of crises over the last two years” and 73% admitted to feeling “overwhelmed by the number of crises facing the world right now.” [1]

Short-term stress (i.e., acute stress) goes away quickly, within minutes, hours, or days. Example: when a car cuts you off in traffic or you watch a scary movie. Long-term stress (i.e., chronic stress) lasts for a longer period, weeks, months, or even years. Example: You’re dealing with work-related stress or struggling with money problems.

When stress persists for more than a few weeks, it takes its toll on both your physical and mental health. Your body reacts to stress with an automatic stress response that triggers the sympathetic nervous system by increasing heart rate, enhancing blood circulation, elevating breathing rate, and releasing stress hormones. If you’re not effectively managing stress, these high stress levels can impact both your mental and physical health.

To make sure stress doesn’t go unchecked, you need to know what signs of stress look and feel like. What are some of the physical signs of stress? What are the emotional signs of stress? Spotting them early can help you combat stress later on. Read on to learn more about the signs and symptoms of stress to watch out for.

What Are the General Signs of Stress?

As mentioned above, when faced with a stressful situation, your body activates a stress response (a.k.a. the “fight-or-flight” response) and releases crucial stress hormones (cortisol and epinephrine). During this stress reaction, the body releases stress hormones that trigger physiological changes including muscle tension, increased pulse, and heightened alertness—all good things to help the body protect itself and handle the stressor. [2]

Everyone reacts to stress differently, so learn to recognize the stress symptoms that show up in your body. Some people exhibit physical symptoms, some people exhibit emotional symptoms, and some people experience a mix of both. Physical and emotional signs and symptoms of stress include the following: [2,3,4,5]

Physical signs:

  1. Difficulty sleeping, nightmares
  2. Mind tension
  3. Stomach or digestive issues
  4. Muscle tension
  5. Weakened immune system
  6. Lack of energy
  7. Sexual desire
  8. Change in appetite

Emotional Signs:

  1. Feelings of anxiousness
  2. Forgetfulness
  3. Irritability or anger
  4. Restlessness
  5. Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, frustration
  6. Lack of focus or motivation
  7. Difficulty making decisions
  8. Feeling overwhelmed

What Can Stress Do to The Body?

In short bursts, stress can help you avoid danger or handle a stressful situation. But when stress persists, it can lead to stress overload, which harms your mental and physical health. According to the American Heart Association, “mental health can positively or negatively impact your physical health and risk factors for heart disease and stroke.” [6]

No matter what kind of stress you have, it impacts every system in the body, including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems. [7] While acute stress comes and goes quickly, chronic stress lasts longer and leads to (or increases your risk for developing) all sorts of health problems, such as: [2,7]

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Mental health issues (i.e., depression, anxiety, panic attacks)
  • Stress-related disorders (i.e., tension and migraine headaches)
  • Skin problems (i.e., acne, eczema)
  • Sex-related issues (i.e., decreased sex drive, erectile dysfunction, impotence)
  • Menstrual problems
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Metabolic disorders (i.e., diabetes, obesity)
  • Immune disorders
  • Worsening of existing health problems (i.e., asthma, COPD, IBS, ulcers)

Stress may also contribute to negative behavioral health, including: [3,4]

  • Abusing alcohol (drinking too much or too frequently)
  • Gambling
  • Being overweight*
  • Overeating*, eating an unhealthy diet*, undereating, or developing an eating disorder
  • Participating compulsively in sex, shopping, or internet browsing
  • Having angry outbursts
  • Smoking or using tobacco*
  • Abusing drugs
  • Not taking prescription medications as prescribed*
  • Withdrawing socially
  • Exercising less frequently

*These unhealthy behaviors are associated with increased risk for heart disease and stroke. [6]

How Can I Reduce Stress Quickly?

Because of such far-reaching health implications, it’s important to recognize the stressful situations in your life and find healthy approaches to stress management. Identify specific stressors, whether that’s acute stress, chronic stress, or both. Common stressors include work, school, health, finances, and relationships.

Once you identify your stressors, you can start managing stress more effectively. For quick stress relief, try these strategies: [8,9

  • Eliminate stressful situations. Determine if you can alter the stressor (such as delegating some responsibilities or relaxing your too-high standards).
  • Shift your mindset. Replace negative thoughts with more positive ones. For instance, replace “Why do bad things always happen to me?” with “I know I can find a way to get through this.”
  • Practice relaxation techniques. Fight stress symptoms with stretches, massage, yoga, warm baths, progressive muscle relaxation exercises, or deep breathing techniques.
  • Meditate. Start with just five minutes sitting quietly, breathing, and focusing on the present. If your mind wanders, simply bring your attention back to your breath without judgment.
  • Move your body. Take a brisk walk, jump rope, go for a jog, or just dance around your living room.
  • Spend time in nature. Green space—even if it’s your backyard or your local city park—boosts your mood.
  • Do something you enjoy. Reading a book, singing along to your favorite songs, or watching a favorite sitcom can quickly change your mood.

For a more long-term approach to stress management, you might need to adopt a trial-and-error approach to stress management, since different strategies might not work for you (or appeal to you). But in general, you can start with these stress-management techniques: [5,8,10]

  • Eat nutritious, balanced meals.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get consistent, adequate sleep.
  • Practice routine and preventive self-care.
  • Connect with family and friends.
  • Take a break—from news and social media.
  • Connect with your community.
  • Maintain a journal.

Bottom Line

Stress is rampant these days, and it shows up in the body in unusual ways. What are some of the physical signs of stress? Physical symptoms include muscle tension, sleep problems, pain, digestive issues, and headaches. Stress signs also show up as emotional symptoms including irritability, sadness, difficulty focusing, forgetfulness, and feeling overwhelmed. When stress persists, it can negatively affect both your mental and physical health, causing (or increasing risk for) serious issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and mental health disorders. Being able to identify your stressors is the first step, followed by practicing techniques for both quick stress relief and long-term stress management.

 

Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.

 This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or a recommendation for any specific product. Consult your health care provider for more information. 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

 

References

  1. American Psychological Association. “Stress In America.” March 10, 2022. Accessed on: March 21, 2022. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2022/march-2022-survival-mode
  2. “Stress and Your Health.” March 21, 2022. Accessed on: March 28, 2022. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003211.htm
  3. Cleveland Clinic. “Stress.” January 28, 2021. Accessed on: March 28, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11874-stress
  4. Mayo Clinic. “Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior.” March 24, 2021. Accessed on: March 29, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coping with Stress.” July 22, 2021. Accessed on: March 21, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/stress-coping/cope-with-stress/index.html
  6. American Heart Association. “Stress and Heart Health.” June 21, 2021. Accessed on: March 29, 2022. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/stress-and-heart-health
  7. American Psychological Association. “Stress effects on the body.” November 1, 2018. Accessed on: March 29, 2022. https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body
  8. American Psychological Association. “Healthy ways to handle life’s stress” November 1, 2019. Accessed on: March 23, 2022. https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/tips
  9. “Learn to manage stress.” March 21, 2022. Accessed on: March 28, 2022. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001942.htm
  10. National Institute of Mental Health. “I’m So Stressed Out! Fact Sheet.” 2022. Accessed on: March 21, 2022. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/so-stressed-out-fact-sheet

Authors

Lisa Beach

NatureMade Contributor

Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.

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Melissa Dorval Pine, RD

Science and Health Educator

Melissa is a registered dietitian (RD) and works in our Medical and Scientific Communications department as a Science and Health Educator. She has worked for Pharmavite for over 20 years educating consumers, healthcare practitioners, retailers and employees about nutrition, dietary supplements and overall wellness. Prior to joining the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Melissa launched and managed Pharmavite’s Consumer Relations department. Melissa received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science, from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and completed her dietetic internship at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in East Orange New Jersey.

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