The signs and symptoms of stress
Recognise the signs of stress
To help you identify whether you or someone you know is suffering from stress, check out our stress guide outlining information on the physical, emotional and mental symptoms and signs of stress.
Accepting that we are stressed is not easy. Some people view an acceptance of being stressed as a sign of weakness and an inability to cope, and won’t readily admit to it. However, if you’re stressed it's very important that you address the symptoms as soon as possible — and to do this you need to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress.
What are the physical, mental and emotional signs of stress?
We are all able to recognize when our body has had a rush of adrenalin during a situation where we’ve had to face alarming or challenging events. For example, think about when you’ve had a near miss when driving the car or the feeling you get when you think you’ve lost your wallet or purse. That’s the adrenalin you can feel coursing through your system.
The adrenalin rush when the body goes into a state of high alert may take some time to pass — but repeated triggering of this response, in other words if you are constantly in stressful situations, can lead to the body being in a state of constant alert and stress. This can result in a variety of stress symptoms, which can be physical, emotional or mental.
The most common symptoms of stress are listed below. These symptoms in particular are worth looking out for if you think that you or someone you know is becoming overly stressed. Of course, if you do suspect that you or someone else is suffering from stress, it’s important that you or the person in question seeks advice from a registered doctor, rather than you diagnosing the symptoms yourself.
Physical symptoms of stress:
- Panic attacks
- Stiff neck
- Shoulder and back ache
- Lack of/or increased appetite
- Rapid breathing
- High blood pressure
- Tingling in the arms and legs
- Indigestion/upset stomach
- Sweating/sweaty palms
- Muscle tension
- Susceptibility to infection
Emotional symptoms of stress:
- Loss of interest
- Rapid mood swings
- Loss of a sense of humor
Mental symptoms of stress:
- Impaired perception
- Reduced concentration
- Poor judgment
- Reduced creativity
- Reduced motivation
What other behavior can indicate a person is stressed?
There are some obvious signs connected to lifestyle choices and the workplace which may suggest that an individual is stressed out. Again, as with physical, emotional and mental symptoms, if you or someone else behaves in any of the following ways, then it’s important for you or the person you know to seek further advice from a doctor, rather than presuming that the behavior is a sign of stress.
Using or abusing stimulants
Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and/or drugs are often what people turn to when under pressure, as they provide an immediate chemical relief. A marked increase in the use of these by any individual may indicate that the person is stressed. Using or abusing stimulants will unfortunately make problems worse, as they stimulate the production of more adrenalin — which will increase a person’s stress response.
Exhibiting different behavior in the workplace
If a person in your workplace is stressed, it may become apparent through a number of indicators. Working relationships between colleagues may be difficult, and the stressed person’s behavior may be fraught. Other indicators of workplace stress may include a reduction in quality, quantity and promptness of work output; working excessively long hours; poor timekeeping; an increase in accidents or dangerous behavior; or an increase in absence.
Exhibiting other signs of stress
Not having or making time to do things you would normally do may indicate stress. For example, it may be that someone is not eating properly because they don’t have the time, or that they are no longer getting exercise which they used to undertake regularly in the past. Also, lack of sleep is often a clear indication of an overworked, overstressed individual.
Recognising stress and taking action
Exposure to long-term stress can cause 'burnout', where a person is no longer able to perform the roles that they once did. So, while it can be difficult for someone to recognize or admit that stress is affecting their life, learning to watch out for its effects and taking action quickly will help a person cope with it. Knowing what the most common physical, emotional, mental and behavioural signs of stress are — as described here — will help you to do this.