Signs and symptoms of stress: a simple checklist


Signs and symptoms of stress are not always obvious. This article will help you understand how stress is affecting you.

Stress arises when we perceive that we are not able to cope with the circumstances that we are facing or the demands that are being placed upon us.

Stress is essentially a subjective experience, varying for each of us. Therefore, whatever caused me to react like I am in the image above may not affect you in the slightest, whilst whatever sends you into a spin might be something I can take easily in my stride.

Because of this subjectivity, therefore, the signs or symptoms of stress are largely subjective too. We can each be affected by stress in different ways.

Nevertheless, it is worth looking at some of the common signs because if you have never really suffered from stress before you may well not be aware that certain reactions you are having could be stress related.

Types of stress symptoms

Symptoms of stress can usefully be divided into four categories:

  • Physical symptoms – bodily reactions
  • Emotional symptoms – what you are feeling
  • Behavioural symptoms – what you are doing
  • Psychological symptoms – what you are thinking

I have outlined below, some of the more frequent signs of stress that can fall into each of those categories, but it is important to remember that if you are experiencing any of these signs individually or in combination, it does not necessarily mean you are suffering from stress.

If you have any of the physical symptoms, for example, there may well be a simple physical or genetic cause.

Similarly, if an unusual or difficult situation has recently arisen for you, such as a job loss or relationship breakdown, then some of the other symptoms might be quite normal, temporary reactions.

The most important indicator is if you notice these signs over a prolonged period, perhaps a couple of weeks or more, and/or they represent a significant change from the way that you usually are.

For example, if you’ve been feeling more impatient than usual lately or you’ve had a couple of angry outbursts at work, when usually you are pretty calm and even-tempered, that could be a sign that stress is affecting you.

If you are worried, ask people who you trust and who care for you if they have noticed any changes in you. Also listen out for relevant comments, such as people mentioning that you seem a bit unlike your normal self.

The effects of chronic, long term stress are potentially very damaging, so if you are seeing signs of stress, it makes sense to take some action to resolve the problem as soon as you can.

Physical symptoms of stress

  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Neck and/or back pain
  • Upset stomach, Irritable Bowel Syndrome or digestive problems generally
  • Increase blood pressure
  • Skin conditions, rashes, eczema
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Problems sleeping
  • Increased frequency of illnesses and infections
  • Less resistance to cold and flu viruses
anger: symptoms of stress

Emotional symptoms of stress

  • Tearful
  • Anxious
  • Angry
  • Impatient
  • Irritable
  • Miserable
  • Hopeless
  • Panicky
  • Depressed
  • Overwhelmed
  • Out of control

Behavioural symptoms of stress

  • Crying
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Argumentative
  • Shouting
  • Swearing
  • Nail biting or other compulsive behaviours
  • Insomnia
  • Over-sleeping and inability to get out of bed
  • Over-eating or eating less
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Increased substance abuse – drugs, alcohol, tobacco
  • Reckless behaviours , such as gambling, fast-driving

Psychological symptoms of stress

  • Believe you can’t cope
  • Believe you have no support and nobody cares
  • Believe that asking for help will make you look foolish or incompetent
  • Believe that everything is going wrong
  • Believe things will never change
  • Blame yourself for everything
  • Blame other people for things that are not their fault
  • Feel victimised
  • Lose trust in others
  • Believe that everything will be okay if you can just get to the end of the week, month or year or just get over this present project, hurdle or difficilty
  • Think that you are useless
  • Believe you never have enough time

Wrap up

As indicated the important point to look out for is whether you are suffering from symptoms of stress that are unusual for you, have been occurring for a while and for which there is no obvious recent explanation.


The four-fold classification of stress symptoms and most of the symptoms listed come from Coaching for Resilience by Adrienne Greene and John Humphrey, 2012, Kogan Page

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