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Symptoms and Signs of Stress and Its Effects on the Body

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.

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Stress Symptoms

How Does Stress Affect the Body?

Stress usually first affects the emotions and causes psychological symptoms. Initial symptoms may include the following feelings:

  • Anxiousness
  • Nervousness
  • Distraction
  • Excessive worry
  • Internal pressure
  • Changes in sleep patterns

These emotional states can then begin to affect a person's outward appearance; the affected individual may seem

  • unusually anxious or nervous,
  • distracted,
  • self-absorbed, and/or
  • irritable or angry.

As the stress level increases, or if it lasts over a longer period of time, a person may begin to experience more severe emotional or even physical symptoms:

In most cases, these symptoms are very minor and don't last very long. If they become more severe or increase in frequency and severity, seek medical help.

Stress Causes

Stress can be caused by any type of physical or emotional stimulus or situation. Often, people speak of different types of stress such as work stress, relationship stress, or parenting stress. Some kinds of stress may be related to specific stages of life such as aging, pregnancy, the teen years, or the menopausal transition. Children can also be affected by stress.

Despite its source, any type of stress can become unmanageable or overwhelming. The following are risk factors for uncontrollable stress:

  • Social and financial problems
  • Physical or mental illness
  • Lack of social support networks
  • Family history of stress or family discord

Diet for Stress Management Carbs, Nuts, and Other Stress-Relief Foods Slideshow

Diet for Stress Management Carbs, Nuts, and Other Stress-Relief Foods Slideshow

Stress: We all have it, and how we handle it can make all the difference. Stress management can be a powerful tool for wellness, since too much stress is bad for you. There are many strategies, and one of them includes what you eat. Read on to learn how a stress management diet can help.


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