What Are The Common Physical And Psychological Symptoms Of Stress?

Dr. Kim Lebowitz answers the question: 'Common Symptoms Of Stress?'

ByKim Lebowitz, Ph.D., Director, Behavioral Medicine & Psychologist, Northwestern Memorial Hospital
April 16, 2008, 3:58 PM

— -- Question: What are the common physical and psychological symptoms of stress?

Answer: When an individual perceives that we're being challenged or that there's a threat to our well-being, we trigger our body's stress response.

The first part of that response is physiological. Our body physiologically responds to help keep us safe, which means it mobilizes all of our body's resources so that we can protect ourselves.

One of the first things that happens is that our breathing increases so that we can increase oxygen consumption. Our heart rate usually increases so that it can get blood and nutrients to the muscle groups in our body that might be needed to sort of help protect us physically from this threat. Our blood vessels constrict so that we can get the blood there quicker, which means that our blood pressure goes up. So increased breathing, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure are things that should be happening when our body is stressed out.

Other things that aren't necessarily immediately important for our safety slow down. So things like our digestive system, and our immune functioning, and even our sexual functioning decrease as a physiological response to stress, because if we're trying to protect ourselves from a dangerous situation, those aren't things that are necessarily important. That's why during stress, individuals might feel symptoms like butterflies in their stomach, or they might experience GI distress, and that's because the digestive system is slowing down.

We also have an emotional response to stress. So in response to a perceived challenge, we're going to feel emotional. We might feel scared, we might feel sad, frustrated, irritated, angry -- those are all typical emotions that can be experienced in response to stress.

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