Stress symptoms may be affecting your health, even though you might not realize it. You may think illness is to blame for that nagging headache, your frequent insomnia or your decreased productivity at work. But stress may actually be the culprit.

Indeed, stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms can give you a jump on managing them. Stress that's left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Common effects of stress on your body

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems

Common effects of stress on your mood

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression

Common effects of stress on your behavior

  • Overeating or undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social withdrawal
  • Exercising less often

If you have stress symptoms, taking steps to manage your stress can have numerous health benefits. Explore stress management strategies, such as:

  • Regular physical activity
  • Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi or getting a massage
  • Keeping a sense of humor
  • Socializing with family and friends
  • Setting aside time for hobbies, such as reading a book or listening to music

Aim to find active ways to manage your stress. Inactive ways you may use to manage stress — such as watching television, surfing the Internet or playing video games — may seem relaxing, but they may increase your stress over the long term.

And be sure to get plenty of sleep and eat a healthy, balanced diet. Avoid tobacco use, excess caffeine and alcohol intake, and the use of illicit substances.

If you're not sure if stress is the cause or if you've taken steps to control your stress but your symptoms continue, see your doctor. Your doctor may want to check for other potential causes. Or, consider seeing a professional counselor or therapist, who can help you identify sources of your stress and learn new coping tools.

Also, if you have chest pain, especially if it occurs during physical activity or is accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, nausea, or pain radiating into your shoulder and arm, get emergency help immediately. These may be warning signs of a heart attack and not simply stress symptoms.

April 28, 2016