Signs of Mental Stress

Stress is how the brain and body respond to any demand. Every type of demand or stressor—such as exercise, work, school, major life changes, or traumatic events—can be stressful.

Stress can affect your health. It is important to pay attention to how you deal with minor and major stress events so that you know when to seek help.

According to the American Psychological Association’s latest stress survey, 63 percent of people regularly experience psychological symptoms of stress.1

Stress affects everyone.2
Everyone feels stressed from time to time. Some people may cope with stress more effectively or recover from stressful events more quickly than others. There are different types of stress—all of which carry physical and mental health risks. A stressor may be a one time or short-term occurrence, or it can be an occurrence that keeps happening over a long period of time.

Examples of stress include:

  • Routine stress related to the pressures of work, school, family and other daily responsibilities
  • Stress brought about by a sudden negative change, such as losing a job, divorce, or illness
  • Traumatic stress experienced in an event like a major accident, war, assault, or a natural disaster where people may be in danger of being seriously hurt or killed. People who experience traumatic stress often experience temporary symptoms of mental illness, but most recover naturally soon after.

Long-term stress can harm your health.2
Health problems can occur if the stress response goes on for too long or becomes chronic, such as when the source of stress is constant, or if the response continues after the danger has subsided. With chronic stress, those same life-saving responses in your body can suppress immune, digestive, sleep, and reproductive systems, which may cause them to stop working normally.

  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.3
  • Rates of youth with severe depression increased from 5.9% in 2012 to 8.2% in 2015. Even with severe depression, 76% of youth are left with no or insufficient treatment.4
  • 56% of American adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment.4
  • People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders.3

Top Causes of Stress in the U.S.7

  1. Job Pressure: Co-Worker Tension, Bosses, Work Overload
  2. Money: Loss of Job, Reduced Retirement, Medical Expenses
  3. Health: Health Crisis, Terminal or Chronic Illness
  4. Relationships: Divorce, Death of Spouse, Arguments with Friends, Loneliness
  5. Poor Nutrition: Inadequate Nutrition, Caffeine, Processed Foods, Refined Sugars
  6. Media Overload: Television, Radio, Internet, E-Mail, Social Networking
  7. Sleep Deprivation: Inability to release adrenaline and other stress hormones

Stress symptoms6 can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms can give you a jump on managing them. Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

Common effects of stress on your body

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems

Common effects of stress on your mood

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression

Common effects of stress on your behavior

  • Overeating or undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social withdrawal
  • Exercising less often

The effects of stress tend to build up over time. Taking practical steps to manage your stress can reduce or prevent these effects. The following are some tips that may help you to cope with stress2:

  • Recognize the Signs of your body’s response to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol and other substance use, being easily angered, feeling depressed, and having low energy.
  • Talk to Your Doctor or Health Care Provider. Get proper health care for existing or new health problems.
  • Get Regular Exercise. Just 30 minutes per day of walking can help boost your mood and reduce stress.
  • Try a Relaxing Activity. Explore stress coping programs, which may incorporate meditation, yoga, tai chi, or other gentle exercises. For some stress-related conditions, these approaches are used in addition to other forms of treatment. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy and relaxing activities. Learn more about these techniques on NCCIH
  • Set Goals and Priorities. Decide what must get done and what can wait, and learn to say no to new tasks if they are putting you into overload. Note what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
  • Stay Connected with people who can provide emotional and other support. To reduce stress, ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations.
  • Consider a Clinical Trial. Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), NCCIH, and other research facilities across the country are studying the causes and effects of psychological stress, and stress management techniques. Learn more.

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