Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Stress symptoms may be affecting your health, even though you might not know it. You may blame sickness for that annoying headache, your sleeping troubles, feeling unwell or your lack of focus at work. But stress may really be the cause.

Common effects of stress

Stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior. Knowing common stress symptoms can help you manage them. Stress that's not dealt with can lead to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity and diabetes.

Common effects of stress
On your body On your mood On your behavior
Headache Anxiety Overeating or undereating
Muscle tension or pain Restlessness Angry outbursts
Chest pain Lack of motivation or focus Drug or alcohol misuse
Fatigue Memory problems Tobacco use
Change in sex drive Feeling overwhelmed Avoiding friends and staying at home
Stomach upset Grumpiness or anger Exercising less often
Sleep problems Sadness or depression  
Getting sick easier due to a weaker immune system    

Act to manage stress

If you have stress symptoms, taking steps to manage your stress can have many health benefits. Check out many possible stress management tips. For example:

  • Get regular physical activity on most days of the week.
  • Practice relaxation techniques. Try deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi or massage.
  • Keep a sense of humor.
  • Spend time with family and friends.
  • Set aside time for hobbies. Read a book, listen to music or go for a walk. Schedule time for your passions.
  • Write in a journal.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Stay away from tobacco and alcohol use, and use of illegal substances.

Aim to find active ways to manage your stress. Idle ways to manage stress that don't get you moving may seem relaxing. But they may make your stress go up over time. Examples are watching television, going on the internet or playing video games.

When to ask for help

If you're not sure if stress is the cause, or if you've taken steps to control your stress but you keep having symptoms, see your health care provider. Your health care provider may want to check for other potential causes. Or think about seeing a counselor or therapist, who can help you find the sources of your stress and learn new coping tools. And if you are concerned about harming yourself, call 911 or a suicide hotline.

Also, get emergency help right away if you have chest pain, especially if you also have shortness of breath; jaw, back, shoulder or arm pain; sweating; dizziness; or nausea. These may be warning signs of a heart attack and not simply stress symptoms.

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Aug. 10, 2023 See more In-depth