How to recognize stress

There is more than enough stress to go around these days, and we all experience stress to a varying degree on a daily basis. In fact, stress has become so much a part of our lives that sometimes we don’t even realize how much stress we are experiencing, and how it is affecting us. Keep an eye out for the following symptoms, which can be indicators that you are under a significant amount of stress:

Emotional: When we are feeling stressed it can make us angry, irritable or impatient. We can cry easily. If you notice you are having big emotional reactions, and your reactions seem out of proportion, consider whether stress is the reason.

Worried: Stress can also make us feel jumpy, anxious, or panicky.

Overwhelmed: Feeling overwhelmed is a common reaction to stress.

Sleep changes: It can be difficult to sleep at night when you are under a lot of stress. Sometimes, people will spend their nights thinking about their many stressors, and this can make it hard to fall asleep or get back to bed if you wake up in the night. However, under stress some people will spend extra time sleeping and this can also be a sign of stress.

Distraction: When we are stressed, we are often preoccupied, and it can be hard to focus on other important things, such as our work or schoolwork, or our relationships. Our ability to focus and remember things is often compromised when under stress.

Fatigue: Extreme stress can leave us feeling exhausted or run-down.

Nervous habits: People can engage in nervous habits when under stress, such as nail biting.

Changes to food intake and weight: During periods of high stress some people may lose their appetite and eat far less than they normally would, which could lead to weight loss. However, another potential response is to “stress eat” which is eating comfort or junk foods to try to soothe yourself when under stress. In those circumstances, you might gain weight.

Use of substances: During periods of stress people may increase their alcohol intake, or may increase or engage in the use of other substances, legal or illegal, to help them cope.

Other physical manifestations: Increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and muscle tension all result from the stress response. However, other physical manifestations of stress might be less apparent, such as frequent headaches, difficulty breathing or swallowing, stomach or abdominal pain, digestive issues, loss of interest in sex, tics or twitching, dry mouth, shaking, sweating, rashes or hives, and an increase in tooth grinding (either at night or during the day). We don’t always make the connection that these physical responses are due to stress.

While any of these symptoms can occur for other reasons, if you are noticing that you have many of these symptoms, consider whether they could be related to stress. If so, it will be important to engage in self-care to minimize the potentially harmful effects of long-term stress.

The Live COVID SMART blog series was developed to promote resilience in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Contributing authors: Heidi Radunovich, Marcia Brown, Kim Griffin, Beth Kerr, Lori Wiggins, John Diaz, and LaToya J. O’Neal. This work is supported by the Rural Health and Safety Education Program [grant no. 2021-46100-35459].


Charlesworth, E. A., & Nathan, R. G. (2004). Stress management: A comprehensive guide to wellness.  Random House.

Sapolsky, R. M. (2004). Why zebras don’t get ulcers (3rd ed.). Henry Holt and Company.



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Posted: April 17, 2022

Category: Health & Nutrition, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: Anxiety, COVID-19, FCS, Hamilton County, Healthy Sleep, Reduce Anxiety, Stess, Wellness

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