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signs of stress

We all get stressed: it may be a deadline at work, relationship difficulties or problems juggling all of our day-to-day demands. Our levels of stress ebb and flow. Most of us identify a few things that we can do to keep it in check but how do we know when stress is becoming more of a problem for us? For many, the signs of stress can be quite telling.

Recognising the Signs of Stress

Stress is an inevitable part of life, but when it becomes chronic, it can have a significant impact on our physical, behavioral, and emotional well-being. Early recognition of the signs of stress or understanding the symptoms of stress is crucial. It can help you take action before it seriously affects your health, preventing the situation from worsening.

Physical Signs of Stress

Stress often manifests physically, and being aware of these changes can help you identify when stress levels are too high.

  • Changes to Sleep Patterns: Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or feeling tired even after a full night’s rest can be indicators of stress. You might also experience restless sleep or vivid dreams.
  • Appetite Changes: Stress can lead to eating less or craving high-calorie, sugary foods. You might find yourself snacking more often or losing interest in regular meals.
  • General Aches and Pains: Muscle tension, headaches, and general bodily aches are common physical responses to stress. These pains might seem to appear without a clear physical cause.
  • Digestive Issues: Stress can wreak havoc on your digestive system, causing stomach aches, nausea, or changes in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhoea.
  • Frequent Illness: High-stress levels can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to colds and infections. If you notice you’re getting sick more often and recovery is slower, stress might be a contributing factor.

Behavioural Signs of Stress

Changes in behaviour can be a clear sign that stress is affecting your daily life.

  • Withdrawal from Activities: Losing interest in hobbies or activities you once enjoyed can be a sign of stress. You might feel too overwhelmed to participate in these activities.
  • Avoiding Social Contact: Stress can make you want to isolate yourself from friends and family, avoiding social interactions that you once found pleasant.
  • Lack of Focus: Common behavioural signs of stress include difficulty concentrating, being easily distracted, or forgetting things more frequently.
  • Procrastination and Disorganisation: Missing deadlines, being late, or generally feeling less organised can indicate stress, which impacts one’s ability to manage time and tasks effectively.
  • Increased Substance Use: Turning to alcohol, smoking, or other substances more frequently as a coping mechanism can be a sign that stress is becoming unmanageable.

Emotional Signs of Stress

Emotional responses to stress can significantly affect your mood and overall mental health.

  • Irritability and Moodiness: Feeling more irritable, snappy, or easily frustrated than usual can be a sign of stress. Minor annoyances might lead to significant emotional reactions.
  • Feelings of Hopelessness: Feeling despondent or hopeless and helpless can indicate high stress levels.
  • Heightened Emotions: Stress can make you feel more emotional, leading to crying spells or heightened sensitivity.
  • Increased Worry: Worrying excessively about things that wouldn’t normally bother you or feeling anxious about everyday situations is a common emotional sign of stress.
  • Feeling Overwhelmed: Feeling unable to cope or overwhelmed by tasks and responsibilities can be a major indicator that stress is affecting you.

When left unchecked, stress can lead to more long-term physical and mental health problems such as high blood pressure, depression and anxiety. If you start to notice any of these symptoms of stress and your usual ways of coping do not seem to be working, it may be time to talk it over with someone. Friends, family or a trusted work colleague can be a great sounding-board when you’re struggling. However, if you feel like you can’t talk about it with someone you know or you need more than just a friendly ear, you can make an appointment with your GP, or you can make an appointment for a free initial consultation to get further help.


For more info on the signs of stress, you can visit the Mind website.