Stress Symptoms

We all experience stress symptoms physically, emotionally and behaviourally.  Stress is all around us each day… from family crisis and relationship problems to getting a flat tyre on your way to somewhere really important.  It could be that you are late for an appointment or lost your keys or mobile phone…whatever it may be, we can all relate to feeling stressed.

I am a big believer that a little bit of stress isn’t too bad for you – positive stress is what gets us up in the morning and readies us for the days’ events. Stress can help us achieve our goals, targets and ambitions. However when stress becomes distress, we are overwhelmed and our capacity to cope is affected.

Have a look at the following list of common symptoms of stress - maybe some of these are familiar to you when you are feeling overwhelmed with all that you have going on in your life, or if there is one particular event worrying you.

Physical symptoms

Headaches / Migraines – Many clients I have seen over the years complain of headaches and at times, migraines, which can be extremely debilitating. Sometimes this can also be down to dehydration so it is always important to drink water regularly and less caffeine/alcohol to help manage headaches if they are present.

Sleep problems – Not being able to get to sleep and early waking are common stress symptoms. When I see groups for stress management, I often hear at least one person say “I don’t get stressed”, yet that same person may speak about their difficulty in sleeping sometimes. This is usually because when we are asleep, the unconscious part of us does not switch off and we are invariably not in control of our thoughts and feelings, therefore if we are stressed then this can be played out by way of dreams/nightmares and frequent waking.

Excessive tiredness – If you are experiencing sleep disturbance then you are bound to be tired. Other people can sleep for hours on end when they are stressed – perhaps a coping mechanism developed from childhood, yet still feel tired and lethargic.

Muscular tension / aches (back, neck, knees, shoulders) – It is possible to ‘hold’ stress in our bodies. I often talk to clients about noticing the parts of their bodies that are perhaps clenched, such as their jaw and teeth. Try it now – are your shoulders raised to high? Let them relax and feel your body release tension by parting your teeth a little…this will loosen pressure around your temples and can relieve headaches too. Other stress symptoms of this nature are back pain and other muscle problems… don’t ignore them.

Raised heart rate / palpitations – Some people experience physical sensations in their chest area when they are stressed which can be described as ‘flutterings’ or for some, quite painful. Please seek medical attention quickly if you experience this. You may experience shortness of breath and/or a need to flee from the immediate environment you are in, such as a supermarket or shopping centre.

Diarrhoea / stomach cramps / heartburn – A bodily response to stress and nervousness can often be in any of these forms, especially if you are worried about a specific event, such as a driving test, exam, interview etc.

Skin rashes – Stress symptoms can be in the form of skin problems. Dermatitis and Eczema and other skin rashes can flare up if stress occurs as can asthma (if you are asthmatic).

Emotional and behavioural symptoms

Anger / Irritation / Short temperedness – Getting angry can be an easy emotion for some people to get into contact with, particularly if sadness is difficult to express. I think we can all relate to ‘holding it together’ all day, and then perhaps snapping and being irritable with our loved ones when we are particularly stressed.

Wanting to cry often – Crying can often be a release of adrenaline. Yes I know crying will not take away your problems but I do believe that having a good cry in a place you feel comfortable can be quite therapeutic and offer a release to enable you to think more clearly about how you might be able to tackle whatever it is that is causing you stress.

Feeling helpless and hopeless – Often as a result of prolonged stress and can be a symptom of depression if often present. Self esteem and confidence can often be affected too.

Overeating / loss of appetite – Whether it be comfort eating or skipping meals, there is no doubt our eating habits are affected when stressed. Some of us may need to make ourselves ‘feel better’ by eating more and the wrong types of food, and then others just don’t think about eating at all or use food as a way to regain some kind of control.

Increase in drinking alcohol / smoking – Self medicating with alcohol is not uncommon. There is a common misconception that alcohol can help with sleep; however it is in fact quite the opposite. The same goes for smoking. I have had clients tell me that having a cigarette de-stresses them; however the affect on the body is also, quite the opposite. I guess the only ‘good’ thing about smoking is that it can make you take time out and have a break…however I am still not sold on the idea!

Loss of feelings of pleasure and joy – Have you ever found yourself declining invitations to go out with your friends or not doing those things you would normally do to relax and spend time with people? Perhaps your libido has changed? When was the last time you had a really good laugh? These are all things that are affected when stress levels have risen beyond our ability to cope.

Poor relationships with friends, family and colleagues – Have you noticed that you are having more disagreements with people lately? Perhaps friends and colleagues are avoiding you. Stress affects how we communicate and our ability to tune into other people’s needs.

Lack of motivation and commitment – Finding it hard to get up in the morning? Perhaps you are low in energy and feeling lethargic. Commitment levels can drastically drop when stressed and avoidance techniques can emerge as well as other negative coping strategies.


A different take on stress symptoms is this TedTalk by Kelly McGonigal - How to make stress your friend

See my stress management page for top stress busting tips if the above stress symptoms are all too common for you.

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