Explains what stress is, what might cause it and how it can affect you. Includes information about ways you can help yourself and how to get support.
Signs and symptoms of stress
Stress can affect our emotions, our body and how we behave, in lots of different ways. Sometimes when we are stressed, we might be able to tell right away. But at other times, we might keep going without recognising the signs.
This page covers some of the common signs and symptoms:
It was quite a revelation to notice my frantically beating heart, racing thoughts, hyperactive personality and behaviours all resulted from being massively and permanently stressed out.
If you are stressed, you might feel:
- Irritable, angry, impatient or wound up
- Over-burdened or overwhelmed
- Anxious, nervous or afraid
- Like your thoughts are racing and you can't switch off
- Unable to enjoy yourself
- Uninterested in life
- Like you've lost your sense of humour
- A sense of dread
- Worried or tense
- Neglected or lonely
- Existing mental health problems getting worse
Some people who go through severe stress may experience suicidal feelings. This can be very distressing.
The hormones that our bodies produce to respond to stressful situations can have many physical effects. These effects might include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Panic attacks
- Blurred eyesight or sore eyes
- Sleep problems
- Muscle aches and headaches
- Chest pains and high blood pressure
- Indigestion or heartburn
- Constipation or diarrhoea
- Feeling sick, dizzy or fainting
- Sudden weight gain or weight loss
- Developing rashes or itchy skin
- Changes to your period or menstrual cycle
- Existing physical health problems getting worse
If we experience high levels of stress, these physical effects can get worse. This can also happen if we experience stress for a long period of time.
In some cases, stress may cause more severe or long-term physical health problems. These might include:
- Takotsubo cardiomyopathy ('broken heart' syndrome). This can feel similar to a heart attack. The British Heart Foundation has information about takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
- Secondary amenorrhoea. This is when you don't get your period for three months or more. The NHS has information on stopped or missed periods.
I started waking up in the morning in a panic, feeling nauseous, with my heart racing. That feeling would stick around for as long as I was awake. 99% of the time, I felt like something really bad was about to happen.
If you feel stressed, it might make you:
- Find it hard to make decisions
- Unable to concentrate
- Unable to remember things, or make your memory feel slower than usual
- Constantly worry or have feelings of dread
- Snap at people
- Bite your nails
- Pick at or itch your skin
- Grind your teeth or clench your jaw
- Experience sexual problems, such as losing interest in sex or being unable to enjoy sex
- Eat too much or too little
- Smoke, use recreational drugs or drink alcohol more than you usually would
- Restless, like you can't sit still
- Cry or feel tearful
- Spend or shop too much
- Not exercise as much as you usually would, or exercise too much
- Withdraw from people around you
[It feels like] the world is closing in on me, I can't breathe and I'm running out of time.
This information was published in March 2022. We will revise it in 2025.
References and bibliography available on request.
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