What are the Physical Signs of Stress and Anxiety?
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Identifying the Physical Signs of Stress and Anxiety

written by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 7/31/2011

Too much stress and anxiety can cause physical symptoms, like headaches and abdominal pain. Learn about the different physical symptoms of stress and anxiety that a person can experience.

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    Stress and anxiety are two natural reactions that anyone can experience. MedlinePlus states that “stress can come from any situation or thought that makes [the person] feel frustrated, angry or anxious" while “anxiety is a feeling of apprehension or fear." In small amounts, stress and anxiety are healthy; however, too much can interfere with normal functioning and health. Stress and anxiety are often accompanied by emotional and behavioral symptoms, like trouble concentrating, irritability, restlessness, jumpiness, depression and agitation; though a patient can also have physical symptoms of stress and anxiety that also interfere in their life.

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    Physical Signs of Anxiety

    When a patient has a large amount of anxiety that affects her quality of life, and that has lasted for a few weeks consistently, it is considered an anxiety disorder. There are multiple types of anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), phobias, panic disorder and social anxiety disorder. Each of these types of anxiety disorders is characterized by different symptoms; however, all of them result in some physical symptoms.

    Breathing can be affected during an anxiety attack: the patient can have shortness of breath or rapid breathing. The patient may feel like she is panicking, with a pounding heart, sweating, muscle tension, dry mouth and difficulty swallowing. Besides the muscle tension, the patient may also experience tremors and twitching. Gastrointestinal problems can also occur, such as stomach upset and frequent urination. Other physical symptoms of anxiety are headaches, fatigue and insomnia.

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    Physical Signs of Stress

    Helpguide.org states that during a stressful event, the patient's body releases certain hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol. When released in large amounts in response to a stressor, such as a traumatic event, these stress hormones can cause problems for the patient. A frequent physical symptom of stress is aches and pains, especially ones that do not have an apparent cause. MedlinePlus notes that abdominal pain may be the only stress symptom experienced by a child. Chest pain is also common. Gastrointestinal problems also occur with stress, including constipation and nausea. Long-term stress can also lead to other problems, like frequent colds and eating problems.

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    Physical Symptoms Found in Both Stress and Anxiety

    Some of the physical signs of stress and anxiety are the same. This includes a rapid or irregular heartbeat, dizziness and diarrhea. A patient with either chronic stress or an anxiety disorder may have sleeping problems, such as trouble falling asleep, or sexual problems, like difficulty reaching an orgasm. These physical symptoms can be alleviated by treating the underlying cause of the stress or anxiety.

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    References

    MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Stress and Anxiety, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003211.htm

    Helpguide.org: Anxiety Attacks and Disorders, http://www.helpguide.org/mental/anxiety_types_symptoms_treatment.htm

    Helpguide.org: Understanding Stress, http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_signs.htm

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