Warning signs of stress

Stress often manifests in many ways before it strikes a crushing blow

stressful man

The warning signs of stress may vary considerably from person to person. Most of us tend to have our own stress response. The symptoms of stress are caused by triggering of the sympathetic nervous system, which releases hormones [stress hormones] that affect every organ of the body. These symptoms may vary from a benign manifestation like acne to a catastrophic event like a heart attack.

Warning signs

Signs of stress can broadly be classified into four groups:

Physical signs

  • Backache, muscle cramps.
  • Rise in blood pressure, which leads to burning sensation in eyes, throbbing, headache or palpitation.
  • Gastric symptoms like acidity, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea or constipation.
  • Skin problems like rash, acne and flaring of allergies.

Emotional signs

  • Anxiety [and a feeling that something is wrong] in a situation where feeling nervous is an appropriate response.
  • Frequent feelings of depression instead of sadness or disappointment when things don’t go your way.

Behavioural signs

  • Nervous habits like nail biting or hair pulling.
  • Frequent temper flare-ups or crying episodes.
  • Unusually long spells of sleep or lack of it.
  • Excessive eating or hardly eating anything.

Cognitive signs

  • Forgetting small things in everyday life—it may mean you are preoccupied with something else that is bothering you.
  • Inability to concentrate and irrational judgement.

Managing stress

Over a period of time, most of us start believing that nothing can be done about our stress levels. Slowly but steadily, it creeps into your life and by the time you realise it, corrective steps become more difficult. Therefore, it becomes imperative to first accept that you are stressed. Next is to take charge of situation so that you are able to control your life.

The aim of stress management is to achieve a balance in life so that you have adequate time for work, relationships and yourself. There are two ways to manage stress:

  • Short-term measures are primarily intended to improve physical manifestations. These include taking a pain killer for headache. Sometimes these can be as easy as going out for a movie or stopping what you’re doing and taking a few deep, relaxing breaths. Just getting away for a few minutes can be calming and help you relax.
  • Long-term relief from stress is important. Here’s how to go about finding it:

Identify the cause

Most of us tend to believe that there are many factors, which are interwoven and complex that cause stress. But first identify the one big source that may be initiating the cascade. For example, you may not be getting along well with your boss. And if you take it home, your relations at home may get unnecessarily spoiled and soon the situation may spiral out of control. Dusting your office worries before entering home can solve this problem.

Prepare a diary to help identify the regular stressors in your life. As you keep a daily log, you will begin to see patterns and common themes to be acted upon.

Find out what can be changed

Obviously, this does not mean that you change your job or home if you feel stressed out at these places. It rather means limiting contact with events/people you feel are giving you stress. For instance, if traffic stresses you out, hire a driver or take a less congested route even if it is longer. This will make you feel better.

Re-examine your priorities and expectations

A common source of stress is often unrealistic expectations from yourself and from others. When expectations are realistic, life feels more predictable and more manageable. Forgive yourself when you can’t meet those standards.

Organise yourself

Overwork and fatigue are the commonest cause of stress. Free yourself from negative thoughts and you will automatically feel happier and contended. Manage your time well—delegate responsibilities and learn to accept help.

Accept the things you can’t change

Accept that sometimes there are situations that are out of your control. If you are an introvert, vent your feelings either through crying, laughing or by sharing your problem with a trusted friend. Bottling up emotions will cause more stress.

Learn to relax

Given below are some ways you can relax:

  • Relaxation. Set aside at least 10 – 20 minutes a day for your relaxation practice. It can be done slowly by breathing in through your nose and breathing out through your mouth, pushing out air as much as you can.
  • Meditation. Sit up with your spine straight, try to focus at one point or repeat a word throughout the session. Combination of meditation and relaxation works well.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation [PMR]. It is a technique, which involves alternately tensing [10 sec] and relaxing [20 sec] various muscles of the body. It can be done either sitting or lying down, with eyes closed.
  • Imagination. Try to imagine the happy times you have spent or a favourite spot you have visited and feel the stress move out of your body.
  • Yoga. This is an excellent stress relief technique. It involves a series of slow steady movements and gentle stretching combined with deep breathing.
  • Massage or aroma therapy: Both these activities can help ease the stress. Here’s how:a. Move your scalp back and forth slightly by making circles with your fingertips for 15 – 20 seconds b. Put slight pressure on your eyebrows near the nose for few seconds and then release. c. A good fragrance around you will boost your mood and relieve stress.

Adopt a healthy lifestyle

Unfortunately, many people try to reduce stress by smoking, drinking, gambling or overeating; they provide temporary relief but in the long run, negatively affect health. Instead:

  • Exercise regularly for at least 30 minutes, three times per week
  • Keep your body well-nourished
  • Get good sleep for 6 – 7 hours a day
  • Reduce your caffeine, sugar or alcohol intake

Finally, try to accept the fact that well-handled stressful situations make you stronger. They provide opportunities for personal growth. Try to figure out how a small stressor that’s troubling you can, in fact, be beneficial in the long run. Then, you will actually learn to enjoy such challenges.

Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!

Meenakshi Ganjoo
Dr Meenakshi Ganjoo, MBBS, MD [PSM], is associate consultant, Preventive and Lifestyle Medicine at Medanta – The Medicity, Gurgaon. She has previously worked in association with Government of Karnataka [NRHM] and has authored books on ASHA Training Program. She has also worked with WHO [NPSP].


  1. It’s nice one. very helpful for people who leads stress in life & even in corporate world.

    Good one.All the Best.

    Vijay Nair


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