When stress is too much

Listed below are some common symptoms and long-term effects of stress, some of which we all experience from time to time.

Learn to recognise your own warning signs.

Using the list below, tick off symptoms which you experience and ask someone who knows you well if they agree with your list.

However, if you find that your symptoms are becoming a problem that seriously interfere with your everyday life please consult your doctor.

Physical symptoms

  • Palpitations (thumping heart)
  • Pains / tightness in the chest
  • Indigestion / stomach pains
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Having no energy
  • Frequent headaches
  • Sudden panic attacks
  • Muscle twitches
  • Aches / pains
  • Rashes, itching or hives
  • Frequent blushing / sweating
  • Clenched fists or jaw
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Need to urinate frequently
  • Eating too much / too little
  • Frequent colds / infections
  • Blurred eyesight / sore eyes
  • Feeling sick, dizzy or lightheaded

Emotional symptoms

  • Swings in mood
  • Increased anger / frustration
  • Easily agitated
  • Tearfulness
  • Constant worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feeling tense
  • No enthusiasm
  • Feeling nervous
  • Feeling irritable / wound up
  • Feeling helpless
  • Feeling unable to cope
  • Loss of confidence
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Frequent crying
  • Feeling lonely / worthless
  • Lacking in self-esteem
  • General unhappiness

Behavioural symptoms

  • Being more accident prone
  • Making more mistakes
  • Poor work
  • Increased smoking
  • Too much alcohol
  • Overuse of drugs
  • Problems in sharing
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Sleep problems / nightmares
  • Unable to relax
  • Loss of sexual desire
  • Loss of interest in appearance
  • Too busy to relax
  • Snapping at people
  • Obsessive / compulsive behaviour
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Excessive gambling or impulse buying

Remember the symptoms listed above may also be attributed to causes other than stress.

If you are concerned about your general health please consult your doctor.

Your body’s response to stress


So far we have talked about stressful situations, but it is important to remember that:

Stress is not what happens to us, but how we respond to and deal with situations that are stressful for us.

In managing our stress it is important to understand why we respond or react the way we do.  Sometimes life feels like a battle, or may feel like you want to run away, particularly when you feel under constant stress.

These emotions and feelings are part of our development as human beings.  Looking back at our early development and our fight for survival, life was, in some ways, more straightforward although perhaps more dangerous.  The threats we would have faced probably meant life or death decisions and there was a simple choice of fighting or running away, when for example, faced by a vicious tiger.

The reactions, battling (fight) or running away (flight) are instinctive and natural ways of behaving when under threat.

In modern everyday life the threats or demands we experience are not so clear, and often it is not appropriate to resolve stressful situations by fighting (arguing with your manager) or flight (running out of the house and leaving the noisy kids). Even though there may be time when we feel like doing both!

Although we live in different times and have different demands or threats, our bodies retain this natural, instinctive way of responding.

To be ready for whatever action, certain changes take place in the body (see below).  These occur partly as a response to the release of adrenaline, which is a hormone, that helps to get us going and keep us going.

What happensHow your body reactsHow you look and / or feel
Need more oxygenYou breathe fasterBreathlessness, inability to breathe
Need more energyStored sugar is released into your body as sugar and fatSluggish, tired
Need to transport food and oxygen fasterYour heart beats faster to pump blood around your body more quicklyPalpitations heart thumping in your chest
Need to be alertLess blood to your hands, feet and stomachLook pale, butterflies in stomach, nausea
Heat created by extra activityYour skin sweats to cool downWet palms, hot flushes, cold sweats