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What is stress and what are the symptoms?

Feeling stressed is something we’re all familiar with. It’s a natural bodily response to situations or circumstances that make us feel pressured, challenged, or threatened. It’s common to find yourself stressed about your workload at school, work, or university, or to experiences feelings of stress if you’re having problems with money, relationships, or health. Sometimes, simply being too busy and having too much to think about and do can cause you to feel stressed.

Although stress is not considered a diagnosable mental health condition, it’s still something to talk to your doctor about. Stress can be related to other mental health conditions such as anxiety and low mood or depression. Additionally, stress can contribute to long-term physical illnesses if left unaddressed.

Common stress symptoms

If you are experiencing the kinds of symptoms described below, it’s likely you’re suffering from stress.

Psychological and behavioural symptoms:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or overburdened
  • Unable to think clearly, make decisions or solve problems
  • Losing interest in eating, exercise, socialising, and other everyday activities
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feeling a sense of dread
  • Being irritable
  • Wanting to smoke or drink more than usual
  • Wanting to bite your nails or pick at your skin
  • Feeling upset and tearful

Psychological and behavioural symptoms:

  • High blood pressure and racing heart
  • Heartburn and indigestion
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Feeling sick or dizzy
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Shallow breathing/hyperventilating
  • Muscle pain and tension
  • Headaches
  • Grinding your teeth
  • Sexual dysfunction e.g. not being able to get an erection

Stress and your physical health

When we feel stressed or anxious, our bodies release the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which help prepare us for action. This reaction is often referred to as the “fight or flight” response. Feeling very stressed on a regular basis means that you are producing high levels of these hormones, which can negatively impact your physical health. Physical conditions associated with stress include heart disease, diabetes, and asthma.

With this in mind, it’s a good idea to seek medical help if you are regularly experiencing the kinds of symptoms listed above. A doctor can suggest tactics for bringing your stress under control and will help to put your mind at ease.


Content reviewed by Jemma Shafier, a Doctor Care Anywhere GP


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