Most people can identify stress when they experience it—that overwhelming mental state that can make it difficult to think, perform, or even breathe. Nevertheless, despite the fact that these symptoms of Stress are prevalent, each person will experience stress in a unique way. Let’s discuss Symptoms of Stress and how to handle the stress.
For instance, you might have uncontrollable shaking when speaking in front of a group of people, but someone else might experience discomfort—such as a stomachache or a headache—prior to a first date or when faced with an impending deadline. Another person might also handle all of these circumstances without a hitch at the same moment.
Your stress, to some extent, can be linked to your upbringing by your parents, including the genetic traits they passed down to you, along with other difficult experiences from your childhood. Dr. Michelle Dossett, a warm-hearted assistant professor of medicine at UC Davis School of Medicine in Sacramento and Medical Director of the UC Davis Integrative Medicine Clinic in California, explains that people respond differently to stress – some with increased agitation, while others with feelings of sadness, withdrawal, or irritability.
Whatever your stress response may be, recognizing the telltale signs can become a valuable tool in managing your stress more effectively. This process allows you to gradually build resilience and cope better with life’s stressors, potentially avoiding more serious problems in the future.
“Dr. Jennifer Haythe, a caring cardiologist and co-director at the esteemed Center for Women’s Cardiovascular Health in NewYork-Presbyterian and Columbia University Irving Medical Center, emphasizes the significance of paying attention to our bodies. What we perceive as mere stress could hide a genuine illness, and vice versa, making it crucial not to take our well-being lightly. To stay in tune with ourselves, nurturing practices like yoga, meditation, or exercise can work wonders. Remember, your health is a precious asset, and if anything doesn’t feel right for an extended period, seeking medical advice is the wisest path to ensure a happy and healthy life.”
Short-Term Stress: What It Feels Like in Your Head and in Your Body
As life throws its challenges and threats your way (a demanding email from your boss, traffic chaos on your way to catch a flight, or the blaring fire alarm in your building), your instincts come alive to safeguard you. It’s as if your inner protector awakens, empowering you to face the situation with heightened focus and an alert mind. This phenomenon is commonly known as the “fight-or-flight” response, but there are other stress responses like “freeze” or “friend” that can come into play too.
When stress takes its toll, your body’s adrenal glands release a potent mix of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, aptly named to handle tough situations. These remarkable chemicals work together, creating a symphony of emotional and physical changes, influencing everything from your thoughts to the muscles in your body and the very nerves within your stomach.
The Most Common Emotional and Cognitive Symptoms of Stress
When you’re stressed out, you could notice that you’re more emotional or irritable than usual. Observe the following indications:
- In the 2017 Stress in America poll by the American Psychological Association (APA), 36% of respondents said that stress makes them feel more tense or anxious.
- Thirty-five percent of respondents to the APA study reported feeling angry or irritable.
- Inability to focus or forgetfulness
- sadness, melancholy, or sobbing
- withdrawn attitude
- I’m feeling overpowered
- In the APA poll, 45 percent of respondents said they had trouble falling asleep and had spent the preceding month lying awake.
- A shift in appetite or eating patterns (eating significantly more or less)
- an increase in drug or alcohol use
Your body is also affected by all those stress-related hormones. The following are a few of the most typical bodily signs of stress:
- muscles in the shoulders, back, or jaw that are tense
- abdominal pain, acid reflux, constipation, or diarrhea are examples of gastrointestinal symptoms.
- blood pressure and heart rate rising
- mouth arid
- Arrhythmia or fluttering in the heart
- You may be more susceptible to illness if your immunity is lowered.
- Rash skin
Long-Term Stress and the Symptoms That Impact Your Head, Heart, and the Rest of Your Body
While the body’s fight-or-flight stress response is essential for protecting you from harm, it can have negative, long-term effects when it activates repeatedly in response to everyday triggers (like a terse email from your significant other or a snide comment from a coworker).
Our stress response is meant to warn us of danger and assist us in avoiding injury. The chemicals adrenaline and other hormones get the body ready to fight or run. But what if the issue at hand is one that can’t be resolved by physically punching someone or fleeing, such as a protracted divorce or financial stress? The body reacts in the same way, but those hormones won’t have any beneficial effects instead they can do harm.
In the relentless grip of stress, when your body’s response refuses to subside, even the slightest stressors can prove too much to bear, leaving you feeling helpless and overwhelmed within yourself. Dossett’s explanation sheds light on this demoralizing experience that makes one feel utterly out of control.
The effects of prolonged stress often mirror those of short-term stress, bringing about similar symptoms, such as:
- Embracing a gloomy state of mind
- Bearing the burden of perpetual worry
- Battling with restless nights or oversleeping woes
- Feeling prickly and on edge, your patience wearing thin
- Struggling to keep your mind on track, focus slipping away, and learning becoming arduous
- Tossing and turning, embracing insomnia’s unwelcome embrace
- Seeking solace in food, indulging uncontrollably, or resorting to substances to cope with overwhelming stress
- Watching your passion fade, feeling a disconnect from the once vibrant intimacy
With chronic stress, however, these symptoms do not go away when the stressor does. Most people can deal with common, immediate stressors reasonably effectively. Dossett argues that because chronic stress exhausts our resources for coping, it becomes harder to manage. Our physiology is altered by it.
Our brain and nerve system are immediately affected by the stress hormones, she claims. “Our cognitive function, capacity for decision-making and creative thought, as well as our entire body physiology, are all negatively impacted when we are repeatedly overstimulated with stress hormones.”
Because of this, prolonged stress can have a negative impact on your health and increase your risk of developing a variety of physical symptoms as well as other issues, such as:
- Struggling with gastrointestinal issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome, heartburn, nausea, and persistent pain, can leave you feeling uneasy and emotionally drained.
- Frequent headaches and jaw pain can disrupt your peace and make it challenging to focus on daily tasks.
- Battling heart disease is a journey filled with ups and downs, causing a mix of emotions ranging from fear to determination.
- High blood pressure can silently burden you, making you anxious about your health.
- Dealing with muscle pain and tension can be like carrying a heavy emotional load, affecting your mood and outlook.
- Coping with skin rashes can be frustrating and may affect your self-esteem and confidence.
- Unwanted weight gain might trigger a rollercoaster of emotions, making you feel at odds with your body.
- Experiencing burnout and losing your sense of purpose can leave you feeling like you’ve lost your way and questioning your identity.
How to Tell if the Symptoms You Are Feeling Are Due to Stress or Something Else, and When You Should See Your Doctor
When you notice yourself experiencing an increasing number of stress symptoms, it’s a gentle reminder to embrace the art of self-care, as suggested by Dossett. Remember, self-care isn’t just a checklist; it’s a beautiful act of nurturing your own well-being and inner balance. Whether it’s finding solace in a serene yoga class, seeking refuge in the embrace of nature during a tranquil walk, cherishing the gift of rejuvenating sleep, or relishing heartfelt moments with cherished friends – each choice we make for self-care becomes a precious act of self-love.
However, if self-care alone doesn’t provide the solace you seek (or if circumstances prevent you from fully engaging in it), trust that there’s still a path forward. Open your heart to share your struggles with a trusted doctor, as Dossett wisely recommends. Your doctor can be a guiding light, helping to uncover underlying health concerns that may be intertwined with your stress. They can support you in creating a tailored self-care routine that aligns with your unique needs. Should further assistance be needed, they may connect you with a compassionate therapist or empathetic psychiatrist – a professional ally in your journey towards a more balanced and joyful life.
Taking care of your health is essential, regardless of whether you feel stressed or not. Ensure you visit your primary care physician annually for a complete check-up, including blood pressure, heart rate, weight, cholesterol, and possibly thyroid hormone assessment. Don’t forget to discuss any stress symptoms you may be experiencing or the absence of them, as they might indicate other significant health concerns that require attention.
Sadly, there exists a troubling trend where doctors tend to overlook women’s heart health, attributing heart palpitations to stress or anxiety, or even unfairly labeling them as hysterical. This prejudice leads to the underdiagnosis of heart disease among women, despite it being the leading cause of death for them in the United States. If you are a woman and encounter fatigue, shortness of breath, jaw or back pain, or nausea, openly sharing these symptoms with your doctor could be crucial for early detection and appropriate care.
Remember this important advice: If you notice any unusual symptoms or suspect that stress may be causing them, and if these symptoms continue for more than two weeks, it’s essential to seek medical advice from your doctor.
Moreover, it’s crucial to reach out to your doctor if stress symptoms start interfering with your daily life. Although it’s normal to feel worry, fear, or sadness in response to life’s challenges, it becomes a concern when these emotions hinder your ability to perform well at work or maintain meaningful connections with friends and family. Taking the time to have a compassionate conversation with your doctor about these concerns can make a significant difference in finding the right solutions and support.
Is It Stress or Anxiety? How to Tell the Difference
Anxiety and stress are both emotional reactions, yet they are slightly different.
Stress is a reaction to triggers outside of oneself. Stress-inducing situations include work, arguments with friends, chronic illnesses, and prejudice, to name a few.
An internal reaction to fears or anxieties that one may experience even if an external stressor has disappeared or is not present is anxiety, which is separate from an anxiety disorder. For instance, if giving presentations has previously been challenging for you, you might experience anxiety about speaking in front of an audience. Going to the doctor can generate worry since you know there’s a possibility the doctor will give you unfavorable health news.
Life sometimes brings stress and worry, which is perfectly normal and even healthy to some extent. However, when anxiety steps in, it intensifies these feelings, manifesting as insomnia, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, muscle tension, and irritability.
Dr. Dossett explains that those grappling with anxiety tend to get trapped in incessant thoughts, accompanied by sensations like fluttering butterflies in the stomach or racing heartbeats.
Ordinarily, these symptoms are not cause for alarm, as they are a result of an overly active stress response. Yet, if they persist and start affecting daily life, seeking medical advice becomes crucial to rule out any underlying concerns.
Beyond the typical ups and downs of stress and anxiety, an excessive and intrusive emotional experience may indicate a more significant mental health disorder. This might encompass generalized anxiety, panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Remember, acknowledging and addressing these feelings is an essential step towards emotional well-being.
When You Might Need a Cardiovascular Stress Test
Don’t be fooled by its name; a stress test is not about the stress you feel. Instead, it’s a remarkable journey your heart takes when faced with challenges. This journey begins with signs like chest pain, shortness of breath, or heart palpitations, which might be triggered by anxiety. Dr. Haythe, the empathetic heart specialist, recommends this test when patients have risk factors or display symptoms of heart disease.
The stress test becomes an adventure for your heart. Picture yourself walking on a treadmill that suddenly inclines steeply, as if you’re ascending a heart-pumping mountain. At this point, your heart demands more oxygen, and its rhythm races, like a courageous superhero preparing for action! The test lets us explore whether any blood flow obstructions exist, requiring further investigation or a heroic intervention to keep your heart beating strong!
How COVID-19 Affected Our Stress
For countless individuals, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a major stressor, impacting their lives in profound ways.
A survey by the American Psychological Association in August 2021 revealed distressing findings – nearly one-third of U.S. adults have felt overwhelmed by pandemic-related stress, leading them to grapple with simple daily choices like dressing or eating. What’s even more poignant is that over one-third of adults experienced heightened anxiety while making crucial life decisions amidst the chaos caused by the pandemic. The emotional toll of this crisis on people’s lives is truly heart-rending.
According to the APA, those who were younger and parents with children living at home were the ones who were most stressed out during the pandemic. The pandemic’s impact on daily living caused stress levels to soar for half of the adults in both of these categories.
Additionally, some evidence indicates that stress may increase a person’s vulnerability to severe COVID-19 infections.
In a fresh research study published this year, it was discovered that among 1,100 adults in the United Kingdom, individuals grappling with higher stress levels faced a heightened risk of developing infections, with more severe symptoms being reported as well.
The study’s lead author, the esteemed Professor Kavita Vedhara, an expert in Health Psychology from the University of Nottingham in England, underscored the significance of the findings, stating, “Beyond being mere consequences of living through a pandemic, heightened stress, anxiety, and depression might also serve as contributing factors amplifying our susceptibility to contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”
Do Men and Women Experience Stress Differently?
According to a 2017 publication by the American Psychological Association, though not peer-reviewed, stressors differ significantly between genders. The survey data indicates that women are more likely to acknowledge experiencing stress related to hate crimes, wars, conflicts, and terrorism, indicating a heightened emotional sensitivity towards these issues compared to their male counterparts.
Moreover, the data reveals that women, across various age groups, report higher stress levels than men, indicating the importance of recognizing and addressing the unique stressors faced by women in our society. Additionally, women are more inclined to adopt coping strategies focused on emotions, seeking solace in self-distraction, emotional support, instrumental support, and venting as means to deal with stress more frequently than men.
Embracing these insights can facilitate a more compassionate approach towards stress management, emphasizing the significance of emotional well-being and providing adequate support to those who experience stress differently based on their gender. By understanding and empathizing with each other’s perspectives, we can foster a more inclusive and supportive environment for everyone’s mental health.