The Most Common Symptoms of Stress You Need To Know




There are many physical reactions to stress, and I see the many signs of stress all of the time in practice. These real physical reactions can be scary because they can be painful and can even mimic life-threatening conditions.

Below lists the most common symptoms of stress:




Stomach discomfort

This includes diarrhea, constipation, nausea, stomach pain, etc. and is one of the most common sign of stress that I see in individuals. Stress affects our stomach due to dysfunction of the mood stabilizing hormone, serotonin. We think and talk about serotonin and its affect on the brain, but it has a much greater effect on the stomach. It is estimated that 90-95% of serotonin is made in the stomach, while the remaining if found in the brain. For this reason, the stomach is often referred to as the “second brain” and you can read more about this here

Real life example:

The first time I observed how stress could be the root cause of on-going stomach issues was when I had a patient who, before I had seen her, had seen dozens of specialists for her stomach pain, had every scan and blood test done to look for the cause of the stomach pain and nothing could be found. When she told me all of this she also mentioned a few things that led me to believe she may be suffering from anxiety and so I recommended we try treating her anxiety and seeing if that would help her stomach as well. When I saw her back in the office a few weeks later, her stomach pain had completely gone away and she was feeling great. This is a great example of how powerful stress can be on the body. I’ve had dozens of other patients just like this, who tried every other treatment out there, and not until we treated the anxiety did the stomach issues go away.



Chest pain

Chest pain is a very common symptom of stress and panic. It typically occurs at rest and can be accompanied by a racing heart, dizziness, and increased breathing. These symptoms are also common with having a heart attack, and can be quite frightening when it happens!

Real life example:

When I was working off of Wall Street in Manhattan, I must have seen a patient everyday who came in for this symptom – and not one was an actual heart attack or heart-related issue.  It is always good to check-in with your provider, but chest pain is an extremely common sign of stress.



Muscle tension

This is due to muscle tension that can come along with a chronic stressed state. If you feel your muscles are getting tighter and stiffer, this is a sign that may need to relax – and maybe take a yoga class too! Read more about why muscle tension is a symptom of stress here.



Fatigue

Feeling lethargic and low energy is a common sign of stress. This is because your brain is firing all the time, not giving your brain a time to relax. Over time, this is tiring and you are going to start feeling more lethargic.



Excessive sweating

Almost everyone can relate to this. Think of when you get stressed all of the sudden and you start to feel hot, and then next thing you know you are sweating profusely. If you feel yourself about to break a sweat from anxiousness, take a few deep breaths to calm your heart rate and your mind down.



Headache

Headaches are a very common symptom of stress, a headache from stress even has its own classification called a tension headache. A tension headache most commonly occurs like a band between the temples and the lower back of the head. This is another common finding I’ve found in practice for very stressed individuals, and it usually includes other symptoms such as from this list.



Teeth grinding

Grinding your teeth is another symptom that may be from stress and anxiety. This is similar to muscles that will clench up when you are stressed. Prevent stress daily by practicing mindfulness, meditate, exercise, and make a point to set aside some time each day for yourself.



Rash

This is another common sign of stress that often times goes undiagnosed. Getting a rash or even hives, which is an itchy raised rash, may be a sign of a highly stressed state. To determine whether your rash is due to stress, take the time to think about how your mood has been over the past couple of weeks and whether your rash showed up at the same time. A rash in general can be hard to diagnose the cause, so anytime you get a rash it is a good idea to backtrack on what you have been doing to try and figure out the root cause.



Shingles

Shingles is basically the worst type of rash you can get, and one of the most common causes of shingles may be due to intense stress. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox, and so if you had chicken pox, you are at risk for developing shingles in your lifetime. Normally the immune system is able to keep the virus down in the body, but when you are super stressed, this can impair the immune system, which can allow the virus to spring out in the form of pain and rash. Read more about this here and here.

Real life example:

Shingles is often more so associated with older adults, but I’ve seen several patients even in their 20s who have had a case of shingles and every time the individual had recently had some sort of traumatic even that had them in an extremely stressed state. An example of a traumatic event is the death of a close family member. This is another reason to be sure to take care of yourself during times of tremendous stress. 



Frequent sickness

This is also due to the immune system being impaired when you are under a ton of stress. When your immune system is impaired, you are more likely to get sick because it is easier for a bacteria or virus to get into your system. If you are constantly suffering from bronchitis or sinusitis, it is a good idea to start assessing your stress level.

Real life example:

Sick visits are common every time of the year, no matter the season. I often saw that if an individual was constantly sick, this seemed to correspond to their current stress level.



Main takeaways…

There are many symptoms of stress and anxiety that can present itself in different ways, as discussed above. Make a point to keep you stress down, and check-in with yourself every so often to see how you are feeling.



References

  1. http://www.caltech.edu/news/microbes-help-produce-serotonin-gut-46495
  2. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/
  3. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-body.aspx
  4. Grinding your teeth is a known cause of stress and anxiety.
  5. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2014/469187/
  6. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bruxism/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20356100
  7. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317631.php




About the author: Sarah-Kate Rems is an Ivy-league trained Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner licensed in California with an expertise in preventative healthcare. She considers nutrition and exercise to be the basis of well-being and is a strong advocate for daily physical activity and maintaining a healthy diet. Sarah-Kate is also a co-founder of The Mindful Tech Lab

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