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Constant stress and anxiety effects


Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior

By Mayo Clinic Staff

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

Common effects of stress

Indeed, stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms can help you manage 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 stressOn your bodyOn your moodOn your behaviorHeadacheAnxietyOvereating or undereatingMuscle tension or painRestlessnessAngry outburstsChest painLack of motivation or focusDrug or alcohol misuseFatigueFeeling overwhelmedTobacco useChange in sex driveIrritability or angerSocial withdrawalStomach upsetSadness or depressionExercising less oftenSleep problems  

Act to manage stress

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

  • Getting regular physical activity
  • Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi or massage
  • Keeping a sense of humor
  • Spending time 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 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, and the use of illegal substances.

When to seek help

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 healthcare provider 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, get emergency help immediately if you have chest pain, especially if you also have shortness of breath, jaw or back pain, pain radiating into your shoulder and arm, sweating, dizziness, or nausea. These may be warning signs of a heart attack and not simply stress symptoms.

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  1. How stress affects your health. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress. Accessed March 5, 2019.
  2. Stress and your health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/good-mental-health/stress-and-your-health. Accessed March 5, 2019.
  3. Seaward BL. Essentials of Managing Stress. 4th ed. Burlington, Mass.: Jones & Bartlett Learning; 2017.
  4. Manage stress. Healthfinder.gov. http://healthfinder.gov/healthtopics/population/men/mental-health-and-relationships/manage-stress. Accessed March 5, 2019.
  5. Seaward BL. Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Well-Being. 9th ed. Burlington, Mass.: Jones & Bartlett Learning; 2018.
  6. Warning signs of a heart attack. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/warning-signs-of-a-heart-attack#.VsZCDtj2bIU. Accessed March 5, 2019.

See more In-depth

Stress affects us all. You may notice symptoms of stress when disciplining your kids, during busy times at work, when managing your finances, or when coping with a challenging relationship. Stress is everywhere. And while a little stress is OK — some stress is actually beneficial — too much stress can wear you down and make you sick, both mentally and physically.

The first step to controlling stress is to know the symptoms of stress. But recognizing stress symptoms may be harder than you think. Most of us are so used to being stressed, we often don’t know we are stressed until we are at the breaking point.

What Is Stress?

Stress is the body’s reaction to harmful situations — whether they’re real or perceived. When you feel threatened, a chemical reaction occurs in your body that allows you to act in a way to prevent injury. This reaction is known as “fight-or-flight” or the stress response. During the stress response, your heart rate increases, breathing quickens, muscles tighten, and blood pressure rises. You’ve gotten ready to act. It is how you protect yourself.

Stress means different things to different people. What causes stress in one person may be of little concern to another. Some people are better able to handle stress than others. And, not all stress is bad. In small doses, stress can help you accomplish tasks and prevent you from getting hurt. For example, stress is what gets you to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting the car in front of you. That’s a good thing.

Our bodies are designed to handle small doses of stress. But, we are not equipped to handle long-term, chronic stress without ill consequences.

What Are the Symptoms of Stress?

Stress can affect all parts of your life, including your emotions, behaviors, thinking ability, and physical health. No part of the body is immune. But, because people handle stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary. Symptoms can be vague and may be the same as those caused by medical conditions. So it is important to discuss them with your doctor. You may have any of the following symptoms of stress.

Overview

Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. However, people with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Often, anxiety disorders involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks).

These feelings of anxiety and panic interfere with daily activities, are difficult to control, are out of proportion to the actual danger and can last a long time. You may avoid places or situations to prevent these feelings. Symptoms may start during childhood or the teen years and continue into adulthood.

Examples of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), specific phobias and separation anxiety disorder. You can have more than one anxiety disorder. Sometimes anxiety results from a medical condition that needs treatment.

Whatever form of anxiety you have, treatment can help.

Symptoms

Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
  • Having difficulty controlling worry
  • Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety

Several types of anxiety disorders exist:

  • Agoraphobia (ag-uh-ruh-FOE-be-uh) is a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.
  • Anxiety disorder due to a medical condition includes symptoms of intense anxiety or panic that are directly caused by a physical health problem.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder includes persistent and excessive anxiety and worry about activities or events — even ordinary, routine issues. The worry is out of proportion to the actual circumstance, is difficult to control and affects how you feel physically. It often occurs along with other anxiety disorders or depression.
  • Panic disorder involves repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks). You may have feelings of impending doom, shortness of breath, chest pain, or a rapid, fluttering or pounding heart (heart palpitations). These panic attacks may lead to worrying about them happening again or avoiding situations in which they’ve occurred.
  • Selective mutism is a consistent failure of children to speak in certain situations, such as school, even when they can speak in other situations, such as at home with close family members. This can interfere with school, work and social functioning.
  • Separation anxiety disorder is a childhood disorder characterized by anxiety that’s excessive for the child’s developmental level and related to separation from parents or others who have parental roles.
  • Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) involves high levels of anxiety, fear and avoidance of social situations due to feelings of embarrassment, self-consciousness and concern about being judged or viewed negatively by others.
  • Specific phobias are characterized by major anxiety when you’re exposed to a specific object or situation and a desire to avoid it. Phobias provoke panic attacks in some people.
  • Substance-induced anxiety disorder is characterized by symptoms of intense anxiety or panic that are a direct result of misusing drugs, taking medications, being exposed to a toxic substance or withdrawal from drugs.
  • Other specified anxiety disorder and unspecified anxiety disorder are terms for anxiety or phobias that don’t meet the exact criteria for any other anxiety disorders but are significant enough to be distressing and disruptive.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if:

  • You feel like you’re worrying too much and it’s interfering with your work, relationships or other parts of your life
  • Your fear, worry or anxiety is upsetting to you and difficult to control
  • You feel depressed, have trouble with alcohol or drug use, or have other mental health concerns along with anxiety
  • You think your anxiety could be linked to a physical health problem
  • You have suicidal thoughts or behaviors — if this is the case, seek emergency treatment immediately

Your worries may not go away on their own, and they may get worse over time if you don’t seek help. See your doctor or a mental health provider before your anxiety gets worse. It’s easier to treat if you get help early.

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Causes

The causes of anxiety disorders aren’t fully understood. Life experiences such as traumatic events appear to trigger anxiety disorders in people who are already prone to anxiety. Inherited traits also can be a factor.

Medical causes

For some people, anxiety may be linked to an underlying health issue. In some cases, anxiety signs and symptoms are the first indicators of a medical illness. If your doctor suspects your anxiety may have a medical cause, he or she may order tests to look for signs of a problem.

Examples of medical problems that can be linked to anxiety include:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid problems, such as hyperthyroidism
  • Respiratory disorders, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma
  • Drug misuse or withdrawal
  • Withdrawal from alcohol, anti-anxiety medications (benzodiazepines) or other medications
  • Chronic pain or irritable bowel syndrome
  • Rare tumors that produce certain fight-or-flight hormones

Sometimes anxiety can be a side effect of certain medications.

It’s possible that your anxiety may be due to an underlying medical condition if:

  • You don’t have any blood relatives (such as a parent or sibling) with an anxiety disorder
  • You didn’t have an anxiety disorder as a child
  • You don’t avoid certain things or situations because of anxiety
  • You have a sudden occurrence of anxiety that seems unrelated to life events and you didn’t have a previous history of anxiety

Risk factors

These factors may increase your risk of developing an anxiety disorder:

  • Trauma. Children who endured abuse or trauma or witnessed traumatic events are at higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder at some point in life. Adults who experience a traumatic event also can develop anxiety disorders.
  • Stress due to an illness. Having a health condition or serious illness can cause significant worry about issues such as your treatment and your future.
  • Stress buildup. A big event or a buildup of smaller stressful life situations may trigger excessive anxiety — for example, a death in the family, work stress or ongoing worry about finances.
  • Personality. People with certain personality types are more prone to anxiety disorders than others are.
  • Other mental health disorders. People with other mental health disorders, such as depression, often also have an anxiety disorder.
  • Having blood relatives with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can run in families.
  • Drugs or alcohol. Drug or alcohol use or misuse or withdrawal can cause or worsen anxiety.

Complications

Having an anxiety disorder does more than make you worry. It can also lead to, or worsen, other mental and physical conditions, such as:

  • Depression (which often occurs with an anxiety disorder) or other mental health disorders
  • Substance misuse
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Digestive or bowel problems
  • Headaches and chronic pain
  • Social isolation
  • Problems functioning at school or work
  • Poor quality of life
  • Suicide

Prevention

There’s no way to predict for certain what will cause someone to develop an anxiety disorder, but you can take steps to reduce the impact of symptoms if you’re anxious:

  • Get help early. Anxiety, like many other mental health conditions, can be harder to treat if you wait.
  • Stay active. Participate in activities that you enjoy and that make you feel good about yourself. Enjoy social interaction and caring relationships, which can lessen your worries.
  • Avoid alcohol or drug use. Alcohol and drug use can cause or worsen anxiety. If you’re addicted to any of these substances, quitting can make you anxious. If you can’t quit on your own, see your doctor or find a support group to help you.

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