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What are the signs and symptoms of poorly managed stress?

Excess stress can manifest itself in a variety of emotional, behavioral, and even physical symptoms, and the symptoms of stress vary enormously among different individuals. Common somatic (physical) symptoms often reported by those experiencing excess stress include sleep disturbances or changes in sleeping habits (insomnia or sleeping too much), muscle tension, muscle aches, headache, gastrointestinal problems, and fatigue. Symptoms of many preexisting medical conditions can also worsen during times of stress. Emotional and behavioral symptoms that can accompany excess stress include nervousness, anxiety, changes in eating habits including overeating or undereating (leading to weight gain or loss), loss of enthusiasm or energy, and mood changes, like irritability and depression. Of course, none of these signs or symptoms means for certain that there is an elevated stress level since all of these symptoms can be caused by other medical and/or psychological conditions.

It is also known that people under stress have a greater tendency to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as excessive use or abuse of alcohol and drugs, cigarette smoking, and making poor exercise and nutritional choices, than their less-stressed counterparts. These unhealthy behaviors can further increase the severity of symptoms related to stress, often leading to a "vicious cycle" of symptoms and unhealthy behaviors.

The experience of stress is highly individualized. What constitutes overwhelming stress for one person may not be perceived as stress by another. Likewise, the symptoms and signs of poorly managed stress will be different for each person.

Return to Stress

See what others are saying

Comment from: Car, 35-44 Female (Patient) Published: July 17

I work night shifts and usually get about 4 to 5 hours sleep per day since I juggle work and taking care of the kids, by myself. I mostly get irritated and no control of my anger. I also experience headaches often like sometimes 3 times a week. I had 2 episodes of lack of oxygen while working.

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Comment from: Frazzled, 65-74 Female (Caregiver) Published: May 21

I am extremely stressed out from my husband. He is always screaming at me for some small thing, like getting water on the handle of a faucet! I cry over happy and sad things or just want to cry over everything! My stomach feels like it is in knots all the time. I feel nauseated and sometime I vomit when I brush my teeth! Recently, my back has been hurting, but the pain moves from behind my hips to the middle of my lower back to my back ribs! I also felt like a bubble moved up my spine the other day, then disappeared.

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Comment from: poe, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: October 31

I take care of my 43 year old daughter on a small budget. I am so stressed out that she should have a life. She was molested when young. All summer I had tension headaches I normally do not have. I was very irritated, I felt like my mind was not in control. I finally woke up one night with my arms outstretched and wanted to get up but couldn't. I had a lot of test at the emergency room and they stated I had a headache. I sure do not remember having one. I also had numbness in my two left toes and two left fingers, I could not eat; my mind is "not good".

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