Symptoms and Signs of Stress

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 8/6/2021

Doctor's Notes on Stress

Stress can be caused by any type of physical, mental, or emotional strain or situation. Common causes of stress include social difficulties, financial problems, physical or mental illness, lack of social support networks, family problems, and a family history of stress.

Symptoms of stress may initially include anxiety, nervousness, being easily distracted, excessive worry, feeling internal pressure, and changes in sleep patterns. This can cause a person to seem self-absorbed, irritable, or angry.

When stress levels are high or chronic, more severe symptoms, including physical symptoms, may occur including fatigue, depression, thoughts of hurting yourself or others, headaches, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, chest pain or pressure, heart racing, dizziness, flushing, restlessness, shortness of breath, hyperventilation, or choking sensation. Most people can recover from stress symptoms when the stressor is removed or managed.

What Is the Treatment for Stress?

If stress is worsening symptoms of an underlying condition, treatment is directed at managing that condition. Effects of stress may be treated with lifestyle alterations, dietary changes, or, in some cases, medications. Examples of treatments can include:

  • Lifestyle measures to promote relaxation, including interventions such as breathing exercises, meditation, regular exercise, biofeedback, acupuncture, and others
  • Dietary changes to promote good nutrition
  • Avoiding alcohol and caffeine, which may worsen symptoms
  • Smoking cessation
  • Practicing good sleep hygiene
  • Psychotherapy or counseling
  • Medications, in certain cases, to provide short-term relief of anxiety or to promote better sleep

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.