Sometimes it is hard to be sure if a person is suffering from stress symptoms. You or somebody close to you might be under a lot of pressure and having some health issues without being sure if they are stress symptoms. Sometimes we do not even know that we are in a stressful situation.
There are two kinds of stress and the symptoms can be a little different.
1. Acute stress
Acute stress means sudden and temporary stress. It is not necessarily greater than the other kind but it usually has an obvious cause and the effects are seen immediately. An example would be getting into a serious argument with somebody or being in an accident.
Acute stress symptoms are characteristic of the 'fight or flight' bodily response to a physical threat. The most common acute stress symptoms are:
- Increased heart rate.
- Fast breathing.
- Tensing of the muscles, including muscles in the face and hands, but elsewhere too.
- Nausea, diarrhea or stomach pain.
The digestive issues are caused by the sudden shutdown of the digestive system in stressful situations. If you think of your body's resources like an army, you will understand that at times of stress any resources that were being used for non-urgent maintenance are redirected to deal with the urgent issue. That means taking energy away from digestion, and it is one of the biggest causes of stress symptoms, both acute and chronic.
2. Chronic stress
Chronic stress means stress that continues over a long period of time. It could be severe but equally, it may be low level, background stress that we are hardly even aware of. Many people who suffer from chronic stress think that it is a normal part of life. Causes of chronic stress can include unhappiness in relationships, ongoing pressure at work, financial issues or problems in the environment like poor housing or pollution.
Chronic stress is characterized by a continual release of stress hormones, usually at lower levels than in acute stress but over such a long period of time that they build up and cause secondary stress symptoms.
Having chronic stress means that the body is never quite able to devote enough resources to its normal functions, so the symptoms can include almost anything that a person has a tendency to suffer from. Some of the most common chronic stress symptoms are:
- Chronic back pain or other muscular pains.
- Frequent viral illnesses.
- Fatigue, depression, anxiety attacks, irritability, mood swings.
- Weight loss or gain (from loss of appetite or over-eating).
- Lower fertility and other issues of the reproductive system such as menstrual problems for women, erectile dysfunction for men.
- Frequent asthma attacks and allergic reactions.
- Episodes of autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, psoriasis, Crohn's disease, gastritis, lupus and even cancer.
- High blood pressure.
- Irregular heartbeat, cardiac disease or heart attack.
Of course, stress is not the only thing that can cause these symptoms. You may know that you are under some pressure, and you have some symptoms, but you are not sure whether they are 'just' stress or something more serious. Please do not make assumptions but talk to your doctor. He or she can help with treatment, whether your problems are stress symptoms or something else.