Stress can affect all aspects of our lives, including our emotions, behaviour, thinking ability, and our physical health. People handle stress differently and stress symptoms can vary from person to person. This article looks at some of the most common stress symptoms.
The “stress hormone” cortisol is released in response to fear or stress by the adrenal glands as part of the fight / flight/freeze mechanism. It has been known for many years that that cortisol has the potential to interfere with learning and memory, to increase risk for depression, to lower life expectancy, to lower immune function and bone density, to increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease and many more mental and physical symptoms.
Physical Stress Symptoms
Stress can make us feel physically extremely unwell and puts strain on our bodies. Cortisol helps us deal with stress by partially shutting down more unnecessary functions, like reproduction (so potentially interfering with fertility) and the immune system, in order to allow the body to direct all its energies toward dealing with the stressful situation. These functions of cortisol are supposed to be short term, just long enough to deal with the offending stressor. However, when stress is chronic this becomes a problem.
Cortisol interferes with T-cell production and function, making our bodies more susceptible to invading pathogens. Have you ever noticed how after a period of intense stress and overwork, things quieten down and you then get a really bad dose of flu? Bones and muscles are also affected by cortisol. Cortisol inhibits the uptake of amino acids into the muscle cells, so the muscle cells are inadequately fuelled when cortisol levels are too high for too long. It also inhibits bone formation and decreases calcium absorption in the intestine.
Our blood pressure also goes up in the presence of elevated cortisol levels and the performance of our major organs is affected. It also serves as an antidiuretic and causes the body to retain sodium. If we’re under constant stress then high blood pressure, decreased blood flow to some of our organs, and sodium and water retention are real risks.
Other physical stress symptoms can include:
Low energy or chronic fatigue
Cardiovascular disease – heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes
Obesity and other eating disorders
Menstrual problems – loss of periods
Skin and hair problems, such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema, and permanent hair loss
Gastrointestinal problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome or nausea
Aches, pains, and tense muscles – such as headaches, bad back, aching limbs
Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
Loss of sexual desire
Nervousness and shaking
Cold or sweaty hands and feet
Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
Clenched jaw and grinding teeth
(It is really important to say that all symptoms can arise due to other reasons than stress and if you are at all concerned about your health, you should consult your doctor.)
Emotional stress symptoms
Stress can also affect us on an emotional / mental level in the following ways:
Becoming easily agitated, frustrated or angry
Feeling low and miserable
Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control
Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
Becoming withdrawn and wanting to avoid contact with other people
Cognitive Stress Symptoms
Stress can interfere with the brain and how we think, with the following symptoms:
Black and white / catastrophic thinking
Forgetfulness and disorganisation
Inability to focus
Inability to make decisions
Behavioural Stress Symptoms
Finally, not surprisingly, stress can affect our behaviour, in the following ways:
Changes in appetite (either not eating or eating too much)
Delaying making decisions or avoiding responsibilities
Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes
Nervous behaviours, such as nail biting, fidgeting, and pacing
Avoiding other people or certain places or situations
For more information on stress go to my Stress Counselling Cork page.
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If you are experiencing symptoms of stress and would like to talk things over, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
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Other related articles on stress: Coping with Stress, Stress related illness, Beat Stress!