Signs of Stress

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
August 22, 2018

You might be surprised at some of the little-known signs of stress. Some challenge is good for you — but when you’re overloaded, your health takes a toll.

Everybody has problems. When your problems weigh on your mind almost all the time, you begin to show the signs of stress in your body. This isn’t rare: in one study of working age people visiting a primary care doctor, 35 percent of women and 26 percent of men said they felt “tense, restless, nervous or anxious, or… unable to sleep at night” much of the time.

Stress is your body’s reaction to situations, whether real or perceived. Some stress is good, but too much can be overwhelming. When you feel threatened, a chemical reaction occurs in your body, allowing you to react to stressful situations; it’s called the “fight or flight” response, and is your body’s way of protecting you. During response to stress, your heart rate increases, you breathe faster, your muscles tighten, and your blood pressure rises.

While everyone handles stress differently, and most people can handle small doses of it, once you begin to show signs of long-term stress, your health may become another source of worry. That’s why it’s important to recognize the connection between stress and your health and make stress relief a priority. You might feel that you have no spare time, but you will be more effective if you find that half hour to knit, walk outdoors near greenery, or prepare a healthy meal at a leisurely pace.


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Signs of stress in your body include everything from acne to changes in appetite.

Acne. Some research shows that college students with acne find the condition gets worse during exams. You can help avoid this by getting enough sleep and eating well during the stressful period.

Headaches. Some 60 percent of working-age adults get headaches sometimes, and they come more often the more stressed out you are, according to a study of more than 5,000 people. It’s common for an ongoing headache problem to develop after a big stressful event. Teenagers who get headaches tend to be especially stressed, too.

Chronic pain. People with chronic pain tend to have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their blood or hair, which may come from stress or the pain itself. There’s also evidence that being anxious about your relationships is linked to chronic pain.

We tend to think that sore muscles come with age, but back and neck pain is common among stressed-out teenagers as well.


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Colds. You’re likely to get more colds when you’re under stress, according to a review of 27 studies.

Fatigue. People feel more tired when they’re stressed out, and the stress also interferes with their sleep, in a classic bad loop. In a large survey of Germans, nearly 26 percent of men and more than 34 percent of women reported feeling fatigued during the past six months, and 9.7 percent said they’d had substantial fatigue lasting six months or longer. Another study of more than 2,300 adults in Michigan with no history of insomnia or depression found that stressful events predicted insomnia a year later.

Digestive problems. Evidence is growing that stress triggers changes in the microbes in the gut that eventually lead to problems like irritable bowel syndrome or auto-immune digestive illness. In the short term, you may just find yourself having occasional stomach aches and need to watch for specific foods that trigger them.

Changes in appetite. Many people gain weight when they’re stressed out. Research has documented what you’ve probably noticed: people tend to focus on a limited group of usually unhealthful comfort foods. Other people lose their appetite.


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April 03, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN