Mental and Physical Symptoms of Stress

By Val Silver

Stress takes a toll on you in many ways. Physical symptoms of stress occur in your body for several reasons. Either your subconscious mind perceives a mental stress trigger or your body is challenged by oxidative stress from toxins, metabolic processes, imbalances, and poor lifestyle habits.

You are probably no stranger to obvious mental and physical stress signs. What are not obvious are the reactions occuring inside your body on an on-going basis. The scary thing about these physical symptoms of stress is that when they are greater than the threshold your body can handle, they can cause health problems. When a resulting illness does eventually strike, it is not always possible to make the connection between the illness and the toxin, mental trauma, or poor lifestyle choices that created it. 

A little bit of stress can help you feel motivated to get things done and move forward. This kind of positive stress may feel invigorating. When stress becomes chronic and severe it can wreak havoc in our minds and bodies. As scientists have recently discovered, some of this damage is permanent.

Mental and Emotional Signs of Stress

Mental and emotional symptoms of stress show up in a variety of ways. You may have

  • difficulty making good decisions
  • feelings of overwhelm
  • trouble concentrating
  • anxious, worrisome thoughts
  • a negative outlook on your situation or life in general
  • moodiness 
  • irritability, agitation and/or anger
  • an increase in nervous habits, such as nail biting, and addictive behaviors
  • unhappiness and/or feeling sad and depressed.

When you are mentally stressed, it is common to become more alert and fixated on your problem or the task at hand at the expense of your responsibilities.  You may feel like isolating yourself or feel a need to talk a lot about your situation. 

mental and physical signs of stress

Physical Signs of Acute Stress

Several physical symptoms of stress are obvious when you are mentally and emotionally distressed. Mental distress will always trigger a physical reaction. Your body's stress response creates changes in your body so it can fight or freeze in the face of perceived danger. As a result, you can experience several of the following symptoms. 

Physical signs of stress include

  • tight, tense muscles 
  • faster than normal heart rate 
  • shallow, fast breathing 
  • holding your breath for brief periods.
  • sweaty palms
  • craving carbohydrates to provide the body with fast energy. 
  • reduced sex drive
  • your eyes fixate or it feels like you have tunnel vision.
  • dizziness, nausea, feeling light-headed
  • dry mouth
  • an unexplained bout indigestion, diarrhea, or constipation. 
  • sleep disturbances which can then add to your stress.

The physical symptoms of stress you do not consciously notice are also due to increased stress hormones and reduced DHEA until 'the crisis' is over. These include

  • reduction in immune function
  • slower healing and recovery times
  • blood being shifted from your digestive system and other vital organs to your arms and legs
  • constricted blood vessels 
  • halted cell repair. 

Mental and Physical Symptoms of Chronic Stress

There is a strong relationship between chronic stress and health. Long-term mental and physical symptoms of stress are not often obvious and may take years to manifest. These hidden symptoms may not reveal themselves until you are faced with a serious health issue or look back at a rapidly aging face and body in the mirror.

Being in a state of chronic mental stress requires a great deal of energy. Most of us have enough energy reserves to meet short-term demands. When stress is a common occurrence, those reserves get used up rapidly. Energy needed for health and cell repair is redirected to deal with stress. This takes a huge toll on our energy level, health and well-being. For some individuals chronic stress can be as dangerous as smoking cigarettes. It is implicated as a contributing cause of many health conditions.

Mental and physical symptoms of chronic stressful living include

  • obesity 
  • gastro-intestinal disorders 
  • insomnia and other sleep disturbances
  • recurring headaches
  • sexual problems
  • exhaustion
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • adrenal fatigue
  • accelerated brain and body aging
  • chronic aches and pain
  • illness
  • oxidation. 

A long-term physical symptom of stress is that the number of cells in the primary memory center of your brain decrease, causing memory loss and impaired learning. The brain is not the only part of the body to age more rapidly under the effects of stress. New research shows that chronic mental stress makes our cells age faster. When the immune systems are compromised by this damage, we are more susceptible to disease.

Over time, the adrenal glands may become exhausted under the constant demand to pump out more adrenaline and cortisol. High cortisol levels are responsible for many of the health problems related to stress and illness.

Some people become 'addicted' to the adrenaline rush because it gives them a burst of energy and feels exhilarating. This physical symptom of stress feels good so you are tempted to keep up stressful behaviors. Don't be fooled. It ultimately leads to 'burnout' and other negative long-term health effects. 

Oxidative Stress

Your body is naturally well equipped to cope with occasional stress, but modern living taxes that capacity on a regular basis. It has to deal with many causes of stress, physical and mental, and that can be very taxing on your system. 

Oxidative stress occurs when your body's available supply of antioxidants cannot  keep pace with the amount of free radicals being eaten or produced by the body.  Cell damage, cell mutations, and immune system compromise can result when the detoxification load gets too high. 

Psychological, emotional and physical stress all increase free radical production because hormones are released and metabolism speeds up as part of the stress response.

Drugs, chemicals, smog, cigarette smoke exposure, excessive sugar, processed food, eating too few fruits and vegetables, and super-heated vegetable fats all contribute to oxidative stress. Excessive sugar consumption increases a fat known as triglycerides. This fat is susceptible to free radical damage. When damaged, it can cause problems in the arteries. 

Unfortunately, these are physical signs of stress you cannot directly see. Diseases such as ALS, Parkinson's, chronic fatigue syndrome, Alzheimer's and plaque build up are, at least in part, symptoms of oxidative stress. Therefore, it would be a good idea to assume your body is experiencing this toxic overload to the extent that you have habits or situations that create it.  Stress relief techniques and healthy living habits will help you minimize the harmful effects of oxidative stress. 


The mental and physical symptoms of stress can manifest in almost every part of the body, whether you are aware of them or not. Some symptoms are fleeting and resolve quickly, others can be signs of longterm damage. 

Many of us greatly underestimate the amount of dis-stress we endure, along with the negative effects that develop immediately and over time. We are so accustomed to carrying tension in our bodies and minds that we are not even consciously aware of it.

Take a deep breath right now. Check in with your mind and body often for stress signs. Attune to your mindbody signals so you can quickly and easily relieve them using natural stress relief methods and remedies. 

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Mental and physical symptoms of stress page updated 10/2021

For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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