Physical symptoms of stress range from mild to severe, and some symptoms are only temporary while others may bring long-term discomfort and difficulty. It’s not always easy to identify stress as the cause of these symptoms, though, as you can attribute them to a variety of triggers and scenarios.
Increased Heart and Breath Rate
A high level of stress can increase adrenaline production in your body which, in turn, increases your heart rate and accelerates your breathing. This may be so mild as to go unnoticed, but severe stress or anxiety can increase these symptoms to the point of chest pain or panic attacks.
Tip: Practice biofeedback or deep breathing to remain mindful of your heart and breath rate.
A tense situation causes tense muscles. You may experience a kink in your neck, a stiff back, or a sore jaw from clenched teeth.
Tip: Practice progressive muscle relaxation to improve control of muscle tension and relaxation.
Restlessness presents itself in an assortment of nervous behaviors, some of which may go unnoticed by you (though they may annoy those around you!). If you find yourself chewing your nails, tapping your pen off the desk or kicking your leg while sitting, it’s likely caused by stress.
Tip: Aim for 30 minutes of exercise every day to reduce stress and release nervous energy.
The effects of stress on your stomach and bowels range from tolerable to debilitating. Nausea, abdominal cramps or loss of appetite may be caused by stress, as can diarrhea or constipation. When these symptoms are severe or long term, they may lead to weight fluctuation or manifest from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
It’s normal to catch the occasional cold or flu, especially if you work in a closed environment, but frequent colds are a symptom of stress. The immune system becomes less effective when the body is under severe or long-term stress, which makes you more vulnerable to contagions. And with lower immunity comes lengthened recovery, so you may feel sick more often than not.
Pain from stress can occur in any area of the body and may be a more severe form of one of the above mentioned symptoms. For example, muscle tension may impair your ability to perform physical activities. But you may also experience migraine headaches, stiff limbs or painful intercourse during periods of prolonged stress.
Psychosomatic pain can be exceptionally difficult to treat—or diagnose—so talk with your doctor about the possibility of stress-induced pain and the proper stress reduction technique for your needs.
It’s important that you have any of the above symptoms evaluated by your physician, because the physical symptoms of stress can mimic those of other causes and illnesses.
Tip: Changes as simple as healthy habits and the use of relaxation techniques can lessen these symptoms significantly.