Stress (patient information)

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What are the symptoms?

What are the causes?

When to seek urgent medical care?


Home Care

Stress management

Where to find medical care for Stress?

Stress On the Web

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Editor-in-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S.,M.D. [1] Phone:617-632-7753; Associate Editor-In-Chief: Lakshmi Gopalakrishnan, M.B.B.S.


  • Anxiety is a feeling of fear, unease, and worry. The source of these symptoms is not always known.
  • Stress can come from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous.
  • Emotional stress: usually occurs in situations people consider difficult or challenging. Different people consider different situations to be stressful.
  • Physical stress: refers to a physical reaction of the body to various triggers. The pain experienced after surgery is an example of physical stress. Physical stress often leads to emotional stress, and emotional stress often occurs as physical stress (e.g., stomach cramps).

What are the symptoms of Stress?

  • Stress is a normal feeling. In small doses, stress can help you get things done. Stress does not affect everyone the same way.
  • Many people feel stress symptoms in their body. You may be having pain in your abdomen, headaches, and muscle tightness or pain.
  • When you are very stressed, you may notice:
  • Other symptoms include:
  • Loose stools
  • Frequent need to pee
  • Dry mouth
  • Problems swallowing
  • You may have a harder time focusing, feel tired most of the time, or lose your temper more often. Stress may also cause sexual problems. It can also cause problems with falling or staying asleep and nightmares

What causes Stress?

  • Many people have stress when they need to adapt or change. Examples are:
  • Starting a new job or school
  • Moving to a new home
  • Getting married
  • Having a child
  • Breaking up with someone
  • An injury or illness to you, a friend, or a loved one is a common cause of stress. Feelings of stress and anxiety are common in people who feel depressed and sad.
  • Some drugs may cause or worsen symptoms of stress. These can include:
  • Some inhaler medicines used to treat asthma
  • Thyroid drugs
  • Some diet pills
  • Some cold remedies
  • Caffeine, cocaine, alcohol, and tobacco products may also cause or make symptoms of stress or anxiety worse.
  • When these feelings happen often, a person may have an anxiety disorder. Other problems where stress may be present are:

When to seek urgent medical care?

  • Call a suicide hotline if you have thoughts of suicide.
  • Reasons you may want to seek more help are:
  • You have feelings of panic, such as dizziness, rapid breathing, or a racing heartbeat.
  • You are unable to work or function at home or at your job.
  • You have fears that you cannot control.
  • You are having memories of a traumatic event.
  • Do not stop taking any prescribed medicines without talking to your doctor.


  • Your doctor will want to know what medicines you are taking.
  • Your doctor will also want to know if you use alcohol or drugs.
  • You will have a physical exam and maybe some blood tests.
  • Your doctor may refer you to a mental health care provider. You can talk to them about your feelings, what seems to make your stress better or worse, and why you think you are having this problem.
  • Sometimes, medicines may help treat your symptoms.

Home care

  • What relieves stress is not the same for everyone. Making certain lifestyle changes is the best start.
  • Start with eating a well-balanced, healthy diet, as well as getting, enough sleep, and exercise, Also, limit caffeine and alcohol intake and don't use nicotine, cocaine, or other street drugs.
  • Finding healthy, fun ways to cope with stress helps most people. You can learn and practice ways to help you relax. Find out about yoga, tai chi, or meditation.
  • Take breaks from work. Make sure to balance fun activities with your job and family duties. Schedule some leisure time every day. Spend time with people you enjoy, including your family.
  • Try learning to make things with your hands, playing an instrument, or listening to music.
  • Think about what might be giving you stress. Keep a diary of what is going on when you have these feelings.
  • Then, find someone you trust who will listen to you. Often, just talking to a friend or loved one is all that you need to feel better. Most areas also have support groups and hotlines that can help.
  • Ask your health care provider if any drugs or medicines you are taking can cause anxiety.

Stress management

Stress management involves controlling and reducing the tension that occurs in stressful situations by making emotional and physical changes. The degree of stress and the desire to make the changes will determine how much change takes place.


  • Attitude: A person's attitude can influence whether or not a situation or emotion is stressful. A person with a negative attitude will often report more stress than would someone with a positive attitude.
  • Diet: A poor diet puts the body in a state of physical stress and weakens the immune system. As a result, a person can be more likely to get infections. A poor diet can mean unhealthy food choices, not eating enough, or not eating on a normal schedule.
  • This form of physical stress also decreases the ability to deal with emotional stress, because not getting the right nutrition may affect the way the brain processes information.
  • Physical activity: Not getting enough physical activity can put the body in a stressed state. Physical activity has many benefits, including promoting a feeling of well-being.
  • Support systems: Almost everyone needs someone in their life they can rely on when they are having a hard time. Having little or no support makes stressful situations even more difficult to deal with.
  • Relaxation: People with no outside interests, hobbies, or other ways to relax may be less able to handle stressful situations.


  • Find the positive in situations, and don't dwell on the negative.
  • Plan fun activities.
  • Take regular breaks.
  • Physical activity:
  • Start a physical activity program. Most experts recommend 20 minutes of aerobic activity three times per week.
  • Decide on a specific type, amount, and level of physical activity. Fit this into your schedule so it can be part of your routine.
  • Find a buddy to exercise with. It is more fun and it will encourage you to stick with your routine.
  • You do not have to join a gym, 20 minutes of brisk walking outdoors is enough.
  • Nutrition:
  • Eat foods that improve your health and well-being. For example, increase the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat.
  • Use the food guide plate to help you make healthy food choices.
  • Eat normal-sized portions on a regular schedule.
  • Social support:
  • Make an effort to socialize. Even though you may feel tempted to avoid people when you feel stressed, meeting friends usually helps people feel less stressed.
  • Be good to yourself and others.
  • Relaxation:
  • Learn about and try using relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery, listening to music, or practicing yoga or meditation. With some practice, these techniques should work for you.
  • Listen to your body when it tells you to slow down or take a break.
  • Make sure to get enough sleep. Good sleep habits are one of the best ways to manage stress.
  • Take time for personal interests and hobbies.


  • If these stress management techniques do not work for you, there are professionals, such as licensed social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists, who can help.
  • Schedule time with one of these mental health professionals to help you learn stress management strategies, including relaxation techniques

Where to find medical care for Stress?

Directions to Hospitals Treating Stress


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