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What are the physical symptoms of stress?

Stress doesn't just affect your thoughts, moods and behavior. It also spurs the release of several hormones in the body that can cause both physical and mental problems.

Increases in the stress hormone cortisol, for example, can lead to a number of problems, big and small. High levels of cortisol do the following things:
  • cause excess oil production that can trigger skin breakouts
  • slow your body's metabolism, which affects how much glucose is absorbed into your bloodstream, leading to spikes in insulin that can cause you to store abdominal fat
  • create irregular menstrual cycles by suppressing production of estrogen and progesterone, which can make it difficult to conceive
  • in combination with adrenaline, can cause high blood pressure, a condition that can result in irregular heartbeat and constricted blood flow and may eventually lead to heart disease
Ever notice that when you're feeling tension, your muscles stiffen? This does more than induce poor posture. Tense neck muscles can lead to tension headaches. And muscles aren't the only things that seize up when you're stressed.

Your digestive system may also slow down. Certain kinds of stress cause your body to go into fight or flight mode, diverting energy away from all functions that are not immediately essential, such as breaking down that meal you just ate.

Finally, if stress levels aren't kept in check, they can potentially hinder the growth of cells in the hippocampus area of the brain. In addition to creating a feeling of stress and anxiety, this can contribute to feelings of depression.

Luckily, there are relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga and tai chi that you can employ to help calm body and mind. Research shows that mindful meditation, a type of yoga that focuses on meditation and breathing techniques, can lower the levels of stress hormone cortisol in the body.
Patricia A. Bloom, MD
Geriatric Medicine

There are many different manifestations of stress, including body symptoms, emotions, and thoughts. It’s very useful to begin to recognize the symptoms of stress in your own body, so that you can help yourself when you perceive that you’re under stress. Some examples are:

Body symptoms: palpitations; rapid or shallow breathing; muscle tension in various areas, notably in the upper back and shoulders, scalp muscles, facial muscles and jaw; throat constriction; stomach upset or cramping; tremors; headache.

Emotions: fear, anger, frustration, anxiety, helplessness.

Thoughts: inadequacy, failure, “catastrophising”, revenge.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.