If a person is able to identify their stress symptoms, it can help them manage and improve their mental health. A variety of scenarios can cause people to feel stress, and the symptoms may differ from person to person.

Some common symptoms of stress include headaches, stomach upset, and irregular eating patterns. Experiencing chronic stress can be harmful to a person’s long-term health.

This article describes the possible signs and symptoms of stress. It also explores the complications that may occur when a person experiences too much stress, and how a person can identify, manage, and treat stress.

a man in an office with neck pain which is a stress symptomsShare on Pinterest
Tense muscles and body aches are common symptoms of stress.

Signs and symptoms of stress will differ from person to person. Also, many different triggers can result in a stressful response for each person.

However, some common stress symptoms include:

Body aches and pain

During a stressful episode, the muscles of the body may become tense. Tension is a physical response to stress that allows the body to protect itself from injury.

If the muscles remain tense for an extended period of time, the body may respond by triggering other stress reactions, increasing the risk of stress-related disorders.


People who experience tension headaches or migraine episodes when stressed may also have muscle tension in their shoulders, head, and neck.

In a paper in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, researchers studied 86 participants’ reactions during a 20-minute mental math test.

The researchers found that irritation, anxiety, and alertness increased headache intensity during the stressful task. In general, those who experienced headaches during the mental math test felt nausea, had negative feelings, and had higher expectations of their success before the headache started.

The researchers conclude that when the participants overexerted themselves and were unable to modify their feelings during the stressful event, they had higher chances of experiencing a headache.

Acne and other skin conditions

Scientists have noticed an association between acne and stress. So, a group of researchers conducted a study to test the theory that sebum production increases during stressful situations.

Sebum production might play an important role in acne in adolescents. It is currently unclear whether or not psychological stress increases sebum production, which might connect stress to increased or worsened acne.

Researchers followed a group of secondary school students throughout the year. Stress levels were higher during the exam period and lower in the summer. Students presented with more severe acne during stressful times, but the researchers did not notice an increase in sebum production.

Although acne may worsen with stress, researchers have not yet determined the cause.

Upset stomach

Stress can disrupt the communication between the gut and the brain. Some people refer to this as “having a nervous stomach.”

People who experience digestive problems during stressful situations may notice abdominal pain and bloating. Stress may also influence the bacteria living in the gut.

Also, experiencing stress early in life can affect how the nervous system and body react to stress in the long-term. This can increase the risk of digestive disorders later in adulthood.

Eating disorders

Some people may overeat during stressful experiences, whereas others may undereat. In fact, studies estimate that about 40% of people will increase and 40% will decrease caloric intake when stressed. The remaining 20% of people are unlikely to experience a change in their eating habits.

Researchers suggest that uncontrolled stress can trigger neurobiological behavioral changes that may affect eating patterns.

Sleep disorders

During stressful times, some people may experience difficulty sleeping. Studies indicate that some factors may influence the impact of stress on sleep, including:

  • genetics
  • family history
  • sex (namely, being female)
  • environmental stress

Learn more about stress and sleep here.

Substance misuse

Some studies have demonstrated that extreme stress during childhood, including trauma, could increase the risk of substance misuse later in life.

One of the suspected reasons that stressors affect substance use may be through the activation of similar brain areas. Stress can sensitize these areas, so when a person uses drugs, their motivation centers are already adapted to the effects of the drug.

People experiencing stress may find themselves using recreational drugs or drinking alcohol more than usual. This increases the risk of developing a dependence on the substance.

Other symptoms of stress

Since each person’s response to stress is different, some have reported other symptoms, such as:

  • a lack of focus
  • mood changes
  • loss of interest
  • decreased libido

Chronic stress can cause problems in the following bodily systems:

  • immune
  • digestive
  • cardiovascular
  • reproductive

Long-term stress may even increase the risk of certain conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and anxiety.

The American Psychological Association suggest that chronic stress can also impact the endocrine and respiratory systems. For example, some people may experience shortness of breath and rapid breathing during stressful periods.

People with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and other respiratory conditions may even experience a worsening of their symptoms.

Those with chronic stress may have an increased production of cortisol. Although cortisol is helpful for the “fight-or-flight” mechanism, it can lead to chronic fatigue and obesity, among other conditions.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggest several strategies to help cope with stress. The sections below will outline these in more detail.

Be aware of the signs and symptoms of stress

Keeping a journal of the symptoms a person experiences during stressful periods can help them track how they feel.

Also, journaling can help people figure out exactly what triggers their stress. Knowing the triggers can help them prevent symptoms by controlling their responses to stress.

Get regular exercise

Experts suggest that as little as half an hour per day of walking can improve mood.

Regular stretching and gentle activity are enough to help relieve muscle tension, along with other physical aches and pains that occur due to stress.

Try a relaxing activity

People may find different activities relaxing. Meditation, muscle relaxation, and breathing exercises are some examples of activities that can help a person manage stress and improve their mood.

For those who experience chronic stress, scheduling relaxing activities regularly may help them manage and control it.


Some people feel stress when they have too much to do. Making a list of items and deciding which have the highest priority can help a person get the most important tasks done first. Refusing new tasks can also help prevent stress.

People who focus on which items they have completed at the end of the day may feel more productive than those who focus on what they did not accomplish.

Connect with others

Everyone experiences stress. Having a support group of other people can help some people manage their stress. Support groups may offer emotional support and practical tips to help a person manage their stress better.

People experiencing chronic stress may also benefit from different types of therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy and biofeedback therapy.

When stress starts to affect a person’s quality of life, health, or relationships, they should consider seeing a doctor. Sometimes, the physical symptoms of stress can cause health conditions.

For example, stress can lead to high blood pressure, or hypertension, which can have long-term negative effects on a person’s health.

People experiencing pain, difficulty sleeping, or mood changes may require medical attention to manage stress symptoms and complications.

People experience varying degrees of stress, and different triggers may initiate a stress response in different people. Some symptoms of stress include difficulty sleeping, irregular eating habits, and stomach upset. Sometimes, these symptoms may lead to complications.

Learning to manage stress requires time and effort, but it can help prevent physical symptoms and complications. Making time for exercise, socializing, and relaxing activities can help.

Chronic stress may require professional medical advice to treat and manage. Identifying stress symptoms and treating the underlying cause can help improve a person’s long-term health and well-being.