physical symptoms of stress

Understanding the Physical Symptoms of Stress

Many of us experience stress in our everyday lives. Whether it is managing a busy schedule, impending deadlines for work or school or a major personal life event, there are many situations in which we are put under pressure. Though stress is a natural response to such occasions, frequent and intense stress may lead to negative effects for your health. This post explores the nature of the physical symptoms that are associated with stress.


Physical symptoms of stress

It is typically understood that feeling mentally overwhelmed can be detrimental to one’s mental health. For example, stress is closely linked to the exacerbation of psychological conditions, particularly anxiety and depression. However, it is important to note that it can also impact your physical health. Psychosomatic symptoms refer to physical problems that arise or are worsened as a result of mental stress.


Physical symptoms of stress

The way the body reacts to pressure may be linked to a ‘flight-or-flight’ response, in which it releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This signals changes to the body’s regular functioning, such as having an increased heart rate, increased breathing rate and muscle tension, as it prepares itself to face or flee danger. Ideally, this should happen in short bursts. But if the body is under long-term stress and rarely returns to it’s ‘resting state’, there are several potential impacts on several body systems, for instance;

  • Headaches or migraines
  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • Muscle tension or pains
  • Heart problems (e.g., high blood pressure, increased risk of heart conditions)
  • Digestive issues (e.g., stomach pain, bowel movement problems)
  • Skin problems (e.g., flare-ups of eczema, rashes, acne or other conditions)
  • Impacts on reproductive system (e.g., irregular menstrual cycle for females, decrease in testosterone for males, low sex drive)
  • Weakened immune system


Behavioural changes associated with stress

On top of these psychosomatic symptoms, stress can also result in behavioural changes, such as poor sleep or insomnia, or irregular eating habits (e.g., overeating or loss of appetite). This in turn can contribute to negative outcomes for your overall wellbeing.


Strategies for managing stress

People often seek help for these physical problems without being aware that they are influenced by their mental state. In these cases, psychological treatments may be able to help reduce the psychosomatic symptoms as well. Mental health professionals have various strategies for helping clients to manage stress. Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy has been cited as a useful treatment for recognising and understanding one’s stress-related thoughts, as well as how reduce stress and manage physical symptoms.

There are also preventative measures you can take to reduce the physical, and indeed mental, effects of stress. Some of these include :

  • Exercise or regular physical activity in response to elevated stress hormones
  • Taking up a hobby that calms yo
  •  Relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, mindfulness or deep breathing
  • Creating a stress management plan to refer to in stressful periods
  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle (e.g., a healthy diet, practicing good sleep hygiene)

The presence of psychosomatic symptoms in times of stress shows the close interactions between our mental and physical health, that it is crucial to take care of both. If you need assistance in managing these factors, ensure that you contact a health professional. If you’d like to speak to someone at COPE Centre, click here.