According to the Stress Management Society, stress can flare up in physical, cognitive, emotional, or behavioral ways. Here are some signals to look out for.

By Alyssa Brown
January 30, 2020

It's easy to go through the laundry list of things that might cause stress in a person's life—moving into a new house, a negative work environment, financial concerns, or health problems, just to name a few. But it's just as easy to ignore the symptoms of stress, largely because there are so many ways the condition can manifest. According to the Stress Management Society, stress can flare up in physical, cognitive, emotional, or behavioral ways. If you or someone you love is feeling crushed under pressure, here are some bodily signals to look out for.

Related: How to Make Stress Work in Your Favor

Physical Cues

The American Institute of Stress lists tension headaches, heartburn, a weakened immune system, stomach ache, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, pounding heart, fertility problems, erectile dysfunction, low sex drive, missed periods, changes in appetite, and tense muscles as some of the ways stress affects the body. Think that achy neck and chronic headache you have is from sitting at a computer all day? They could actually be stress related.

Cognitive Abilities

Cognitive function is also affected by stress, according to the Stress Management Society. In the short term, you might notice that you're having memory or concentration problems, brain fog, self doubt, and indecision—or maybe you're starting tasks but not following through. While these symptoms can sound non-specific, they are worth keeping an eye on so you can track how frequently you feel like your cognitive abilities are off.

Changes in Emotional Regulation

Depression, moodiness, irritability, fatalistic thinking, panic, cynicism, anxiety, frustration, and feeling overwhelmed are all possible indicators of stress. While it's normal to occasionally experience these emotional lows, if these symptoms last for a prolonged period of five days or more, it's likely stress related, notes the Stress Management Society.

Changes in Behavior

The society also notes that behavioral changes due to stress might include increased intake of alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine, social isolation, sleeping too much or too little, lack of motivation, over- or undereating, and a loss of one's sense of humor.

What to Do About Stress

"Given the way that stress can impact the body, I recommend booking a massage to help decrease cortisol while simultaneously increasing your sense of self-care," says Clinical Psychologist Dr. Chloe Carmichael, who also advises people to seek help from their community. "Sometimes when we're under a lot of stress—especially for long periods of time—our ability to think clearly, and manage stressors proactively, is actually compromised. So, if you're under a lot of stress, sometimes it's good to start by asking a trusted friend, family member, or therapist to review your stressors with you in order to ensure your fatigue, sadness, or frustration are not causing the stress to snowball by compromising your approach to managing the stressors proactively."

For those struggling with stress management and ready to try a professional approach, a therapist may be the next best step. Dr. Carmichael says, "Psychologists have a lot of training around stressors, as well as a deep understanding of the way a person's cognitive and personality styles might factor into the best approach to help that particular person manage stress."

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