Stress often is accompanied by an array of physical reactions. These symptoms can be characteristic of other physical or mental disorders. A health care professional can rule out other causes after you have undergone a physical examination. Signs of stress can include the following:

  • sleep disturbance (insomnia, sleeping fitfully)
  • clenched jaw
  • grinding teeth
  • digestive upsets
  • lump in your throat
  • difficulty swallowing
  • agitated behavior, like twiddling your fingers
  • playing with your hair
  • increased heart rate
  • general restlessness
  • sense of muscle tension in your body, or actual muscle twitching
  • noncardiac chest pains
  • dizziness, lightheartedness
  • hyperventilating
  • sweaty palms
  • nervousness
  • stumbling over words
  • high blood pressure
  • lack of energy
  • fatigue

Cognitive signs of stress include:

  • mental slowness
  • confusion
  • general negative attitudes or thoughts
  • constant worry
  • your mind races at times
  • difficulty concentrating
  • forgetfulness
  • difficulty thinking in a logical sequence
  • the sense that life is overwhelming; you can’t problem-solve

Emotional signs of stress include:

  • irritation
  • no sense of humor
  • frustration
  • jumpiness, overexcitability
  • feeling overworked
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • sense of helplessness
  • apathy

Behavioral signs of stress include:

  • decreased contact with family and friends
  • poor work relations
  • sense of loneliness
  • decreased sex drive
  • avoiding others and others avoid you because you’re cranky
  • failing to set aside times for relaxation through activities such as hobbies, music, art or reading

Recently, much has been reported about stress and its relationship to other health problems, such as heart disease, blood pressure and depression. While research has not confirmed that having a hostile or aggressive personality (so-called “Type A”) directly causes cardiovascular disease, it may place you at greater risk, especially if your heart rate or blood pressure rise dramatically in response to everyday stress.

Stress also has been linked to suppression of the immune system, increasing your chances of becoming ill or altering the course of an illness if you already have one. In particular, it has been implicated as playing a role in cancer and gastrointestinal, skin, neurologic and emotional disorders, and even the common cold. Some studies have shown that relaxing while listening to soothing music can improve immune system functioning and, we can assume, help with our long-term health.

Elevated blood pressure is another response to stress. Too much stress with little or no coping skills keeps the body “revved up.” Learning to relax can help lower your blood pressure. Elevated blood pressure always should be discussed with your family physician, who can help you sort out whether your elevated blood pressure is due to a medical or genetic condition or a reaction to uncontrolled stressors.

If you do not end up identifying a method to handle your stress then it eventually can lead to a heightened sense of dysfunction. This may result in increased anxiety or a sense of depression because you’re not mastering your world. Feeling depressed (for example, sad, pessimistic, hopeless or helpless) is a common reaction to stress. When these symptoms are temporary, they may simply be a reflection of life’s normal ups and downs. But if they persist for long periods of time, especially after the stressful situation has passed, you may have a problem that could benefit from professional help.

When stress and anxiety escalate without a means to cope with the stress, they often are linked to many troublesome psychological and physiological conditions. Oftentimes, psychological distress accompanies and/or produces these conditions, which include:

  • amnesia
  • sleepwalking
  • multiple personality
  • obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • phobias
  • generalized anxiety disorder
  • hypochondriasis (fear and excessive complaints of bodily disease)
  • high blood pressure

Since prolonged stress can impact your health, it’s important to develop positive coping mechanisms to manage the stress in your life.