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Stress Management for Health Course

Signs and Symptoms of Stress


"The warning signs that stress may be affecting your health vary considerably from person to person.  Most of us, however, tend to have our own usual stress response or fingerprint.  This might be headaches in one person, or an outbreak of eczema or diarrhoea in another . . ." (Professor Greg Wilkinson)


When we experience stress we can develop a wide variety of physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms.  These symptoms are not a sign of disease because stress is not a disease; they are brought about by the bodys Fight-Flight Response, which is designed to give us extra energy and speed to cope with the threat. 

When under stress we may experience a pounding, speeding heart.  This is not a sign of heart disease, but is in fact, caused by stress hormones stimulating the heart to pump harder and beat faster to get extra oxygen to vital muscles and organs so we can fight or run away.  Once the stressful event has passed, the levels of stress hormones in our blood stream will fall again and our heart will return to its normal rhythm.

The heart and the rest of our bodys organs and systems can cope with this speeding up and working harder; they are designed to be able to do this, just as a car can speed up or slow down with extra pressure on the accelerator and less pressure on the brake.  Our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which deal with the fight/flight response, work in a similar manner.  Stress stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (the accelerator) and increases the levels of stress hormones in the blood stream, whereas relaxation stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (the brake), which reduces the levels of stress hormones in the blood stream. 

One of the problems with stress is recognising it.  Once you are aware of it we can take action.  However stress can be stealthy, it can slowly creep up on us without us being immediately aware of it. 

There are numerous signs and symptoms of stress that many of us are unaware of.  Not everybody develops exactly the same symptoms and research has indicated that, although there are common symptoms of stress, individuals vary in the symptoms they present some of us may have mainly physical symptoms such as muscle pain/tension, others may present with symptoms such as crying or anger. 

Learning the signs and symptoms of stress can help us become more aware of the problems stress can cause in our lives.  The table included here lists many of the physical, psychological, and behavioural symptoms of stress.  We have also included a few work related symptoms.  Look at the table and tick the ones that are applicable to you, using it as a record of your level of stress. 

Physical Stress Symptoms   (How Our Body Reacts)
  • Breathlessness
  • Churning stomach
  • Diarrhoea/Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Excess perspiration
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Hyperventilating
  • Increased colds/flu
  • Increased heart rate
  • Indigestion


Psychological Stress Symptoms (How We Think and Feel)


  • Abrasive
  • Anxious
  • Blaming others
  • Catastrophising
  • Cynical
  • Depression
  • Depressed/Anxious thinking
  • Excess guilt
  • Excess worries over health
  • Feeling a failure
  • Feelings of fear
  • Feeling unable to cope
  • Frustration
  • Hopelessness/helplessness
  • Hostile
  • Hypercritical of self/others
  • Impatience



Behavioural Stress Symptoms  (How We Behave)

  • Aggression
  • Agitation
  • Avoidance behaviour
  • Crying
  • Decreased/increased sexuality
  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Difficulty with relationships
  • Eating fast
  • Eating too much/too little
  • Gambling
  • Hostile behaviour
  • Impatience
  • Increased alcohol
  • Increased caffeine
  • Increased smoking


Work Related Stress Symptoms (How we may be affected in our work)


  • Absenteeism/presenteeism
  • Accidents
  • Inability to delegate
  • Increased sick days
  • Inefficiency
  • Persistent lateness
  • Procrastination




Click here for Causes of Stress




  • Impotence
  • Nausea
  • Palpitations
  • Pre Menstrual Syndrome
  • Sense of heart pounding
  • Shallow breathing
  • Sleeping problems
  • Tension headaches
  • Tingling in hands/legs
  • Tremor in hands/legs
  • Weight loss/gain





  • Increased worrying
  • Indecision
  • Irritability
  • Jealousy
  • Lack of concentration
  • Loss of confidence
  • Lower self-esteem
  • Mind in a whirl
  • Mood swings
  • Negative thinking
  • Pessimistic thinking
  • Rumination
  • Sensitivity to criticism
  • Snappy
  • Stressful thinking
  • Tense
  • Worrying a lot




  • Losing temper
  • Making mistakes
  • Nail biting
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Poor eye contact
  • Poorer personal hygiene
  • Poor time management
  • Restlessness
  • Risk taking
  • Substance abuse
  • Talking fast
  • Walking fast
  • Withdrawal from relationships
  • Withdrawal from activities






  • Poor decision making
  • Poor interaction with colleagues
  • Reduced work performance
  • Resentment/anger/irritability