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What Are the Symptoms of Stress?

Image of woman looking out windowAccumulated stress leads us to feel exhausted, our resistance to illness drops, our muscles and behaviors tense, and our performance and creativity are impaired as symptoms of stress rise. In addition, the incessant anxiety of living in this frantic world keeps us from sleeping, eating, and exercising properly, thus depleting us and creating more symptoms of anxiety and stress. Sooner or later, our weakest links begin to break, and we develop physical symptoms of stress and illness. Often these are physical, but they may also show up in other parts of our lives.

We may feel frustration, turning to rage or fear; our family, community, and work relationships begin to falter. As the quality of these social connections wither, our emotions become unstable and we cry, attack, or shrink from the world, or we turn to alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, or other habits in an effort to escape the inner stress.

It is hard to find an illness that has not been shown to be associated with stress. Stress can be a cause of disease, or make us susceptible to one, or make an illness we have worse. Here are some of the common symptoms of stress most of us have that are associated with accumulated stress:

Physical Symptoms:

  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pounding heart (Palpitations)
  • Upset stomach
  • Frequent urination
  • Sweating palms
  • Tense or aching muscles

Mental symptoms:

  • Tension
  • Irritability
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feeling excessively tired
  • Trouble sleeping

Negative Emotional symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Anger that is hard to control
  • Frustration and resentment
  • Helpless, Hopeless feelings
  • Lack of joy and happiness

Negative Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Smoking or drinking too much
  • Procrastination
  • Overeating, compulsive gambling or shopping
  • Irritability, overly critical of self and others, overly judgmental of self and others, and the development of abusive traits

Stress As The Source of Most Human Illnesses

Fighting Couple ImageStress is the most common factor causing our diseases and illnesses these days. Unrelieved stress produces chemicals (such as cortisol) that cause tissue damage leading to inflammation, memory loss, immune dysfunction and other changes that trigger diseases and inhibit healing.  Surgery and antibiotics can help, but the deep healing can only be completed by your own body.

Remember, brief periods of stress that are balanced with deep relaxation are no problem. The problem arises when stress symptoms accumulate – every additional hour or day you are under constant stress is another straw on the camel’s back.   The ulcer doesn’t come because you have been upset a few days or a few weeks; the ulcer comes because one or two weeks out of every month you spend spinning your emotional wheels and burning the lining of your stomach.  If you reside long enough in this stressed state, your effectiveness, energy, and “joie de vie” fade away.

Wait too long and a few minutes of relaxation or even a week or two of relief may not be enough; stress accumulates unless we specifically do something to relieve it.  In a sense, it is like snow on the roof, if you don’t push the snow off before the next snowfall, the load on your roof is going to grow thicker and heavierIgnoring the load doesn’t relieve the stress on your roof, and your stress won’t go away because you ignore it. You’ve got to push the snow off or melt it off before the next snow comes.  Stress accumulates, in the same way, creating stress-related illness, and you must either avoid it or learn to melt the stress away.

Another major symptom of stress is the appearance of (or persistence of) unwanted behaviors – habits and addictions that give short term relief and long term illness and dysfunction. Thus alcoholism, cigarette smoking, compulsive gambling, drug abuse, spousal abuse, and anger mismanagement may be the very distracting symptoms that hide the underlying stress. In fact, any of the mood disorders, from the anxiety disorders to major depression may simply be the reaction of the system to unbalanced stress.

How To Relieve Accumulated Stress and Prevent Physical Stress Symptoms

Praying Woman Image

We can develop ways to directly relieve this accumulated stress and avoid creating excess stress in our lives if we recognize that nature meant stressful periods to be short and interspersed with periods of relaxation, safety, and emotional closeness. What we need, then, is a way to restore this peaceful half of the Stress Response.

Especially when we have an illness, emotional imbalance or other sequelae to accumulated stress, we need to:

    1. Learn to guide the mind and body away from stress-triggering stimuli and thoughts and to an inner island of peace
    2. Practice going to that deeply relaxed place daily to balance the stressors in our lives
    3. Learn to maintain sufficient calm in all situations so that we can make wise decisions
    4. Learn to focus on the moment, realize that the source of all suffering is wanting things to be different from how they are, and accepting with gratitude our true blessings



Suggested Guided Imagery, Meditation & Self-Hypnosis Programs:

Dr. Miller has integrated a number of effective techniques and audio programs to help you melt away stress, including deep relaxation, meditation, self-hypnosis, and guided imagery. All these can help you attain the peaceful states of serenity and stress relief.  His self-help program StressFitness will show you not only how to manage your stress, but how you can even harness its energy for optimal performance.


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