What is stress?

Stress is the brain’s response to any demand. Stress is an automatic response developed in our ancient ancestors to protect them from predators and other threats.

When you face a dangerous situation, the body kicks into gear.  Your pulse quickens, you breathe faster, your muscles tense, and your brain uses more oxygen and increases activity—all functions aimed at survival.

These days, you’re not likely to face the threat of being eaten by a saber tooth tiger.  However, you do confront challenges every day, such as meeting deadlines, paying bills and juggling childcare, relationship problems or dealing with a critical boss. 

All these stressors make your body react the same way.  Problems occur if your response to stress goes on too long, such as when the source of stress is constant, or if the response continues after the danger has subsided.

As a result, your body’s natural alarm system — the “fight or flight” response — may be stuck in the on position. And that can have serious consequences for your health.

Many things trigger this response, including change. Changes can be positive or negative, as well as real or perceived. They may be recurring, short-term, or long-term and may include things like commuting to work every day, traveling for a yearly vacation, or moving to another home.

Changes can be mild and relatively harmless, such as winning a race, watching a scary movie, or riding a rollercoaster.

Some changes are major, such as marriage or divorce, serious illness, or a car accident. Other changes are extreme, such as exposure to violence or abuse, and can lead to traumatic stress reactions.

Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior

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

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 give you a jump on managing them.  Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Common effects of stress …
… On your body … On your mood … On your behavior
  • Dizziness or feeling of “being out of it”
  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems
  • General aches and pains
  • Grinding teeth, clenched jaw
  • Indigestion or acid reflux symptoms


  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression
  • Impatience and forgetfulness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Overeating or undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social withdrawal
  • Frequent arguments
  • Withdrawing
  • Isolation


How does stress affect your overall health?
There are at least three different types of stress, all of which carry physical and mental health risks:

  • Routine stress related to the pressures of work, family and other daily responsibilities.
  • Stress brought about by a sudden negative change, such as losing a job, death, divorce, or illness.
  • Traumatic stress, experienced in an event like a major accident, war, assault, or a natural disaster where one may be seriously hurt or in danger of being killed.

Tips for Reducing Stress
People can learn to manage stress and lead happier, healthier lives. Here are some tips to help you keep stress at bay:

  • Keep a positive attitude. Don’t bury your head, but approach unpleasantness in a more matter-of-fact and  productive way.
  • Accept that there are events that you cannot control.  If we can’t change a situation or an outcome our best option is to learn how to accept it and deal with it.
  • Be assertive instead of aggressive. Assert your feelings, opinions, or beliefs instead of becoming angry, defensive, or passive.
  • Learn and practice relaxation techniques; try meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises.  A variety of different relaxation techniques can help you bring your nervous system back into balance by producing the relaxation response.
  • Exercise regularly. Your body can fight stress better when it is fit.  Just 30 minutes per day of gentle walking can help boost mood and reduce stress.
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.  Comfort foods are the worst choices because they can make us feel lethargic and less likely to be able to deal with stress.  Caffeine is horrible for anxiety and only exacerbates symptoms.
  • Avoid dwelling on problems. Ruminating often leads to depression.  If you can’t do this on your own, seek help from a therapist who can guide you.
  • Learn to manage your time more effectively.  Set priorities.  Decide what must get done and what can wait.
  • Learn to say no to new tasks if they are putting you into overload.
  • Set limits appropriately and say no to requests that would create excessive stress in your life.
  • Make time for hobbies and interests.
  • Get enough rest and sleep.
  • Your body needs time to recover from stressful events.
  • Don’t rely on alcohol, drugs, or food to reduce stress. Ease up on caffeine, too.
  • Seek out social support from those who can provide emotional and other support.
  • Spend enough time with those you love.
  • Ask for help from friends, family and community and religious organizations.
  • If you are having problems with stress, therapy can help.

The above tips are helpful, but obviously are sometimes easier said than done.  If you are feeling overwhelmed or feel that you cannot cope, contact me to learn more healthy ways of dealing with the stress in your life.


This screening is intended solely to help identify the symptoms related to stress. It’s intended to educate and not designed to provide a clinical diagnosis. An accurate diagnosis can only be made by a physician or qualified mental health professional after a complete evaluation, including a physical exam, to rule out any other medical illnesses or conditions that may account for symptoms. Your use of this website constitutes your agreement to the provisions of this disclaimer.