Physical Manifestations of Stress

Physical Manifestations of Stress | Dr. Ali Ghahary

We’ve all experienced stress and/or anxiety from time to time. Stress and anxiety can occur as a result of something minor, to more serious factors such as financial or relationship problems (i.e. dissolution of marriage.) It is the body’s way of responding to both real and perceived situations that it deems harmful. This stress response is known as “fight or flight.” For some individuals, stress and anxiety are things that they can easily overcome – while for others, it can be debilitating. In some cases, it may even be chronic, which can lead to things like changes in personality, withdrawal from hobbies and activities once enjoyed, and social isolation. These changes aside, there are also many different ways in which stress can manifest physically, some of which I’ve outlined below.

Among one of the most common physical symptoms associated with stress is nausea. While you may correlate that general feeling of unwellness with something like the flu, if it lasts for a short period (such as 24 to 48 hours or so), then stress is a potential factor. It can also cause other digestive-related issues. Of course you should always get checked out by a physician if you’re feeling unwell, but also consider anything that may be going on in your personal life that could be giving you that stomach-in-knots sensation.

You may also not be aware that when you’re stressed, this causes your heart to pump faster. As a result of the heart pumping faster, this then causes your blood vessels to constrict and divert an increased amount of oxygen into your muscles. While this essentially gives you the strength you need to help you deal with the stress you’re under, this also causes your blood pressure to rise exponentially – and you experience stress frequently or chronically, your heart health can also be at risk, including the possible risk of suffering a heart attack.

It’s also possible to develop shortness of breath. While this is something that is more common when experiencing something like a panic attack, stress shares this as a similar symptom. This is because when you’re stressed, the muscles that help you breathe become more tense.

Headaches are also associated with stress and aren’t just something we experience as a result of having a long workday or being exposed to unpleasant loud noise. In fact, stress has been known to trigger or worsen tension headaches. Tension headaches are the most common type of headache that individuals experience, and they are characterized as mild to moderate pain and described as feeling like there is a tight band squeezing around your head. When stress is chronic in nature, this could also lead to migraines – the most severe form of a headache – which are described as severe, throbbing pain and may also include other symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, as well as sensitivity to things like light and sound.

It’s also not uncommon for someone who is under a lot of stress to have a difficult time falling or staying asleep – also known as insomnia. To be diagnosed with insomnia, you typically have disrupted sleep that occurs at least three nights per week, lasting for at least three months. Insomnia can also be comorbid in nature, meaning that it may possibly be linked to other medical or psychiatric issues. Treatment for insomnia often includes a variety of components, including behavioural/psychological, as well as medication if necessary, though it depends on your specific situation.

These are just some of the different ways in which stress can manifest in the body. For an even more in-depth look at how stress can affect the body, click here – and remember, if you’re finding that you aren’t able to control your stress, it’s okay to reach out for help.