20 common signs and symptoms of stress.
- The pace of our society has continued to accelerate over the years, leading to an alarming increase in stress-related illnesses.
- The impact stress will have in your life is sometimes a result of your perception and response to it.
- Research on stress has shown evidence of the correlative impact chronic stress has on the onset of illnesses.
American culture rewards people who deal with stress by working harder and faster to produce more in less time. Not surprisingly, the pace of our society has continued to accelerate over the years, leading to an alarming increase in stress-related illnesses.
The definition of stress could be rather difficult inasmuch as we all react to stress differently. What is stressful for one person may be pleasurable or have a mild effect on another. The American Institute of Stress defines it as a feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure, triggered by any change to which one must adapt, ranging from an extreme event like actual physical danger to the excitement of falling in love or accomplishing something.
In addition, stress may be experienced at various levels in physical, mental, or emotional tension. The reality is that stress is an unavoidable part of our everyday lives.
You may feel stressed about a variety of things, ranging from your performance in school to traumatic events such as the pandemic, a natural disaster, an act of violence, or a life-changing event like a divorce. No matter whether the stress you encounter results from a major event or an accumulation of everyday hassles, the impact stress will have in your life is mainly a result of your perception and response to it.
Harvard physiologist Walter B. Cannon set the groundwork for the further understanding of the effects of stress at a physiological level. He was the first to describe the “fight or flight” response as a sequence of biochemical changes that prepare you to deal with threat or danger.
From an evolutionary point of view, it was suggested that primitive people required a quick burst of energy to fight or flee when confronted with predators, like a saber-toothed tiger. Nowadays, we don’t encounter such predators, but our “fight or flight” response may be activated when confronted with situations such as an extreme maneuver trying to avoid a car crash while driving or deciding how to react if being mugged.
Research studies on stress have provided further insight into what happens to our body during the “fight or flight” response. For example, any situation—whether real or imagined—could cause the cerebral cortex (which plays a key role in attention, perception, cognition, awareness, and thought, among other functions) to send an alarm to the hypothalamus (the main switch for stress response, positioned in the mid-brain) to then stimulate the sympathetic nervous system to make a series of changes in the body such as heart and breathing rates, or muscle tension and blood pressure increases. In addition, one’s hands and feet may get cold as blood travels away from the extremities and digestive system into larger muscles to prepare to fight or run.article continues after advertisementhttps://b55f751ac75a48208a0333505e92e084.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Unfortunately, when the “fight or flight” response switch is on for too long, like during times of chronic stress, we might experience long-term negative effects impacting digestion, reproduction, growth, and the responses of the immune and inflammatory systems.
Chronic stress happens when the stressors of life are unremitting and persistent. For example, stressors related to the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to some experiencing the loss of loved ones, fears of getting sick or dying, downsizing at work, loss of housing, or financial issues while dealing with a messy divorce. However, chronic stress is not limited to major events. It can also occur when smaller stressors accumulate over time and one is unable to effectively deal with them. The longer a person’s stress response remains activated, the higher their risk of developing stress-related diseases.
Over 50 years of research on stress has shown evidence of the correlative impact chronic stress has on the onset of illnesses such as cardiovascular and gastrointestinal issues, as well as fatigue, hypertension, and diabetes.
Almost every system in the human body can be damaged by stress. Indeed, the cumulative effect of stress from years ago may still have a negative impact on you now.
Source: Shutterstock / Elnur
The following are the 20 most common signs and symptoms of stress:
- Frequent headaches, and jaw clenching or pain.
- Tremors or trembling of lips, and hands.
- Neck ache, back pain, muscle spasms.
- Lightheadedness, faintness, dizziness.
- Ringing, buzzing, or popping sounds.
- Rashes, itching, hives, or “goosebumps”.
- Unexplained or frequent “allergy attacks”.
- Constipation, diarrhea, loss of control.
- Difficulties breathing.
- Sudden attacks of life-threatening panics.
- Chest pain, palpitations, rapid pulse.
- Excess anxiety, worry, guilt and nervousness.
- Increased anger, frustration, and hostility.
- Depression, frequent mood swings.
- Increased or decreased appetite.
- Insomnia, nightmares, disturbing dreams.
- Difficulties concentrating, racing thoughts.
- Constant tiredness, weakness, and fatigue.
- Increased smoking, alcohol, or drug use.
- Excessive gambling or impulse buying.
Stress can have a wide-ranging effect on emotions, mood, and behavior. Equally important are the effects on the body’s various physiological systems, organs, and tissues.
The initial step in managing your stress effectively is to be aware of its four basic sources. First, the environment bombards you with different demands that require you to adjust. This could range from noise, traffic, weather or even pollution. The second refers to social stressors like work or college deadlines, financial issues, disagreements, demands for your time and attention from your family and work, or the loss of a loved one, among others. The third source of stress is physiological, which happens when we react to environmental and social threats. The fourth source of stress is your thoughts. Yes, your perception of who you are to the world, relationships, situations encountered in daily life. But most importantly, your inner stress management centers around your own “self-talk”—that is, how you speak internally to yourself, the quality of that conversation, and whether it is positive, negative, or irrational.article continues after advertisementhttps://b55f751ac75a48208a0333505e92e084.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
All these demands can trigger symptoms such as muscle tension, headaches, upset stomach, and anxiety. In addition, the physiological effects of stress can be impacted by other factors including lack of exercise and sleep, as well as poor nutrition.
Once you have identified the major sources of your stressed-related symptoms, you can make changes in your life to help alleviate your stress, such as ensuring better nutrition, sleeping habits, physical exercise, and the adoption of relaxation and stress-reduction techniques that not only relax the body but condition the mind to handle stress more effectively.
It is important to be aware that mind, body, and emotions are interrelated, so in order to obtain the best stress reduction results, at least one relaxation and stress-reduction technique should be incorporated in your overall stress management.
Mental health professionals can assist you in identifying the causes of stress in your life and guide you to the most appropriate techniques to reduce your stress-related symptoms by applying techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you reduce stress by changing the ways you think about stressful situations and develop coping strategies.
Full article: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/becoming-resilient/202112/the-relationship-between-stress-and-chronic-illnesses
About the Author
Yamila Lezcano, LMHC, is a licensed Mental Health Counselor in private practice in Miami, FL, and Assistant Professor in the Undergraduate Psychology and Education Program at Albizu University.