Tired, tearful or constantly sick? We look at the 10 most common stress symptoms.
Medically reviewed by Dr Louise Wiseman MBBS, BSc (Hons), DRCOG, MRCGP and words by Tim Hipgrave
Tired, tearful or feeling jangly and anxious? These are all common stress symptoms. Stress can be rooted in work, relationships, financial, health or lifestyle issues, or a combination of all of these.
While it’s normal to feel overwhelmed by any one of these lifestyle factors, if left unchecked stress can start to affect your emotional and physical wellbeing and your whole life.
According to a recent poll taken by the Mental Health Foundation, 74 per cent of people have been so stressed in the past year, they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. With 11.7 million working days a year lost to the condition in the UK, stress is a serious condition.
Tim Hipgrave, emotional health expert at Nuffield Health, outlines 10 of the most common stress symptoms. If any of them sound familiar, then it might be time to take action and ask for help:
1.Fatigue and stress
Stress has a physiological effect on your body by releasing hormones into your bloodstream which accelerate your heart rate and your breathing. This constant strain on your system can have an exhausting effect, leaving you feeling tired all the time.
You may experience sleep loss and find that you are constantly going over the same issue in your head.
In a cruel twist, stress can also prevent you from sleeping. Stress has been found to activate the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis in the brain, which plays a part in sleep-wake regulation. You may experience sleep loss and find that you are constantly going over the same issue in your head again and again. This is your brain working overtime to try to find a solution.
- Teeth grinding and stress
Teeth grinding (also known as Bruxism) is a symptom of stress closely linked to a lack of sleep, because your subconscious mind has heightened activity and this plays out in your mouth. Grinding your teeth can cause dental problems and also a painful jaw which can add to your suffering.
- Headaches and stress
Sometimes known as stress headaches, tension headaches are known to be brought on by stress. Lasting anything from half an hour to a few hours these headaches feel like pressure on either side of the head and can also be accompanied by tense neck and shoulders. If you suffer these headaches regularly, it’s very possible that you are suffering from stress.
- Irritability and stress
Stress can affect our mood in ways that we find difficult to control. When we are stressed our nervous system is hyper-responsive and our sensory receptors are more sensitive to stimuli, making everything seem more intense.
This can add to the feeling of perceived pressure, and make us more reactive. Often if you’re stressed some of the physiological side-effects, such as a lack of sleep or a sore head, can also contribute to the effect on your mood.
- Feeling tearful and stress
For some, stressful emotional responses can lead to tears, as well as (or instead of) irritability. But tears are not just an effect of stress, they have a function in supporting you through stress too. When you cry you release excess stress hormones such as cortisol in your tears, like a safety valve. So feeling better after a good cry isn’t an old wives tale – it’s down to the hormonal release.
- Loss of libido and stress
In order for your libido (sexual desire) to function properly, your hormone balance and neurological pathways need to be in sync. When you are stressed, you release stress hormones, which interfere with this balance and can lead to a loss of libido.
If your partner is starting to feel neglected, now may be the time to reassure them that your flagging libido is related to your stress levels and nothing to do with how you feel about them.
- Junk food cravings and stress
It’s common for people who are stressed to have a poor diet, or to overeat. One factor is that stressed people will often be short on time, and resort to unhealthy fast foods. This then becomes a dangerous cycle in which they constantly feel the need to eat junk food for a short-lived energy fix.
It’s common for people who are stressed to have a poor diet, or to overeat.
People who are in a stressed state in the short term may also lose their appetite, because part of the brain called the hypothalamus produces a corticotropin-releasing hormone, which suppresses appetite. But conversely people who are chronically stressed (for a long period of time) release cortisol, which increases your appetite, especially for sweet and starchy foods. This is where the term ‘stress eating’ comes from.
- Social isolation and stress
Everybody has times in their life when they just want to relax in peace on their own, but if your desire to isolate yourself socially becomes constant, it may be an indication that you are suffering from stress.
When everything feels like it’s getting too much, it’s a natural inclination to hide away, particularly if the stressor that you are reacting to is social. But social withdrawal will usually have a negative effect on your life which can make things worse all round, as humans need to be around other people to release stress and unwind.
- Getting sick easily and stress
Stress has some very real effects on our overall health by suppressing the immune system. This is because when we are chronically stressed we release cortisol into our bloodstream and this can down pedal our immunity in the long term.
So if you find you’re catching colds very easily, or can’t shake them off, it may be because you have a reduced immune system, which can be a result of stress.
- Feeling panicked and stress
The chemicals released into your bloodstream when you experience stress increase your heart rate, as well as the speed of your breathing. This can be quite distressing and, if severe can lead to feelings of panic including what are known as panic attacks.
You might feel shortness of breath or start to panic as you hyperventilate. Hyperventilation is very closely linked to anxiety, and can usually be resolved by removing yourself from the situation and actively trying to slow your breathing. The old breathing into a paper bag does actually work in this scenario.
How to overcome stress
Any of the above symptoms can be linked to stress, and if you’re experiencing one or more of them you shouldn’t suffer in silence. We are built to cope easily with short term stresses in life, but if they go on for a long time or there are many issues at once, it can all start to become too much.
Talk to someone to find ways of coping with stress or removing some of the stress from your life.
Read our stress-busting techniques and tell a healthcare professional who will be able to advise on the best course of action to reduce your stress levels and get you back to good health.
If the stress is chronic it may start to affect your mental and physical health, so you may need to talk to someone to find ways of coping with stress or removing some of the stress from your life.