Stress is the bodily response to demands made upon it. It must be emphasized that stress is caused by our bodily reaction to the external events or environment, and not the external events or environment themselves. The similar external event, for example when asked to make a speech, can have very different responses from different people. Some people may view that as an opportunity to show off his skills or to express their view or even to improve their public speaking skills. On the other hand, some people may fear their speech will display their ignorance or incapability.
While stress that is short and ends quickly may be good for the body, stress that goes on for a longer time without sufficient relief can cause much damage to not only our bodies but many other aspects of our lives, such as damage to our relationships or personalities.
It is therefore vital that we are able to detect when that stress period and level exceeds the healthy limit. Fortunately, it is not too difficult to detect the warning signs of stress, although to detect the signs during the early stage of stress is not so straight forward.
We shall discuss the warning signs and symptoms of stress under the following three categories:
- Physical Signs of Stress
In the presence of a stressor, the body responds by the release of adrenaline to enable it to take explosive actions for survival or high performance. If the stress is relieved, the body goes back to normal conditions. On the other hand, after prolong period of stressful conditions many other physical conditions begin to exhibit themselves. The apparent signs include
- Heart beats faster and stronger
- Perspiration increases resulting in sweaty hands/ palms and even sweats may appear all over the body (even during sleep)
- Headaches and chronic pains in various parts of the body
- Pain or tightness of the chest, neck, jaw and back muscles. The jaw may clench, the teeth may grit resulting in stuttering and other speech difficulties, and the muscles may tremble and twitch
- Restlessness and nervous ticks
- Skin crawls and pales.
- Nausea and vomiting because the body tries to repulse foreign particles in the stomach. May also experience ‘Butterflies in stomach’
- Diarrhea because the colon work faster and repel the waste before it has absorbed the water (and other materials).
The not so apparent physical signs of stress include
- Blood pressure may rise significantly which is bad for the arteries and heart in the long run and in the short term the pressure may rise above what the body can cope for one who already has high blood pressure
- Increased sugar and insulin levels in the bloodstream
- Increased cholesterol in the bloodstream
- Addition of coagulates to blood
- Indigestion and constipation
- Urinary hesitancy or increase frequency
- Increased cortisone from adrenal glands
- Increased thyroid hormone in bloodstream
- Increased endorphins from hypothalamus
- Decrease in sex hormones in the bloodstream
- Premenstrual tension.
- Fall sick more easily because of weaken immune system
- Excessive fatigue
- Emotional Signs of Stress
Stress affects the emotional life too. It often causes emotional upsets in people such as
- Aggression, hostility and jealousy.
- Impatience, anger and anxiety.
- Stammering and other speech difficulties
- Loss of sexual desire and even infertility
- Withdrawal from social life because of difficulty in coping with group situations.
- Loss of peace of mind and become restless, anxious and feeling of insecurity
- Nightmares as a natural attempt to solve problem during dreams
- Emotional upsets
- Loss of positive spirit and become critical
- Impulsive behavior, irritable and moody
- Irregular, over or under eating
- Crying for no apparent reasons
- Cognitive and Perceptive Signs of Stress
Stress often leads to a significant decline in the cognitive faculties in human beings. People lose the capacity to think rationally such as
- Forgetfulness and memory loss and people fail to remember even small things.
- Carelessness and irresponsible acts
- Lack of attention to detail and fail to think from a broader perspective
- Compulsive behavior and loss of clear thinking ability
- Reduced capacity to think creatively
- Disorganization of thought and productivity falls.
- Use of intoxicating substances such as cigarette, alcohol or drugs
Some of these signs and symptoms, such as heart beat rate, blood pressure and blood sugar, can be measured objectively. For the rest, we have to rely on our own awareness and the alertness of other people around us to the signs and symptoms that we may exhibit. It is therefore vital that we observe and notice our own as well as others’ signs and symptoms of excessive stress so that corrective actions can be taken before stress take a better hold on us.