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Stress Symptoms and Signs

Stress Symptoms & Signs

Thanks to the pressure of work, home and family, not to mention money worries and major upheavals such as divorce, moving house, bereavement and unemployment, it’s no wonder many people are finding it difficult to cope with stress.

Indeed, it’s an escalating problem. According to a survey carried out by the Mental Health Foundation(i), 59 percent of adults in the UK say their stress levels are higher now than they were five years ago. The same survey found that almost half (47 percent) of people claim they feel stressed every day, with 26 percent citing money problems and 28 percent work-related problems as the reason.

What is stress?

The Mental Health foundation defines stress as the way you feel when you’re under abnormal pressure. Yet some degree of stress can be good for you, and helps you feel more alert and perform better. It’s only when the level of stress you’re experiencing is excessive or prolonged that it becomes a problem, since that’s when it can have serious health implications.

Stress is thought to be linked with mental health problems because prolonged exposure to stress hormones may damage and kill some of your brain cells. There’s plenty of evidence linking stress with heart attack and stroke, and experts also claim too much stress in women can cause a loss of bone density, which can lead to osteoporosis (brittle bones). Being under too much stress on too regular a basis may cause a variety of other health problems including chronic fatigue, digestive upsets, headaches, back pain, high blood pressure, acne, arthritis, asthma and constant colds and infections

Fight or flight?

Here’s what happens. When faced with a stressful situation, your brain immediately assumes you're in danger and your adrenal glands – found at the top of each of your kidneys – release a cocktail of hormones that trigger what’s known as the fight or flight response. These hormones race through your bloodstream, making your breathing and heart rate faster, and increasing your blood pressure. When the stressful situation passes, your hormone levels usually return to normal.But if you are under constant pressure both at home and at work, your stress response may be activated too regularly, and your hormone levels may remain elevated. When that happens, it can put your health at risk.

How to spot stress

Everybody copes with stress in different ways. Some people seem to thrive on it, while others buckle under what may seem like the slightest bit of pressure. But one of the problems with stress is you may not always realise it’s becoming a problem.
There are lots of warning signs that can indicate you’re not coping with stress as well as you think. Some of the main physical signs include the following:

  • A tendency to sweat more than normal

  • Smoking and/or drinking more than normal

  • Eating too many unhealthy foods or having no appetite

  • Feeling constantly tired or restless

  • Having a nervous twitch

  • Experiencing frequent headaches

  • Not being able to sleep well

  • Feeling sick or dizzy

  • Having digestive problems such as indigestion, heartburn, constipation or diarrhoea

There are many emotional indicators of stress too – some of which may be easier to spot than others – which include the following:

  • Feeling more irritable than normal

  • Worrying constantly about things

  • Feeling like bursting into tears all the time

  • Finding it difficult to concentrate or make decisions

  • Losing your sense of humour

  • Feeling the need to avoid difficult or stressful situations

  • Feeling you have no interest in other people or life in general

  • Denying you have a problem with stress

Should you see your GP?

According to the NHS, psychological problems such as stress, anxiety and depression are behind one in five visits to a GP. So should you see your doctor if you’re experiencing any of the above signs of stress?

One good reason to see your GP is that stress can cause other health problems, such as high blood pressure. Your GP may also be able to give you advice on self-help coping techniques, or they may recommend counselling. Yet according to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation, only six percent of people would consider visiting a GP or a medical professional for stress related issues (i).

Self-help for stress

Living in the 21st century means it’s impossible to eliminate stress from your life altogether. There are, however, many ways of tackling it more effectively and keeping it more manageable. Here are some you can try yourself: