Mental/Brain health

Physical Signs & Effects of Stress- Reduction Techniques & Relief Tips

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What are the physical signs or symptoms of stress in children, babies, toddlers, college students, women when pregnant and men? What are the are the expert reduction techniques or best relief tips? Read on to find out…

You probably know that prolonged physical signs and effects of  stress are bad for you hence there is need to invest in techniques to reduce or relief the effects. Generally, on the short term, stress can be good and productive, like when you are trying to meet a deadline. It can give you that boost of energy that you need and help you be more focused and productive. However, constant stress over a prolonged period of time has some devastating effects on the body and on your overall health.

Physical Signs/Symptoms of Stress in Women, Children and Men

Physical effects of stress-Children, men and women

stressed man

General Symptoms

While stress is a natural way of the body to respond to a demand and potential threat, your well-being can be at stake. This happens when your life takes a different toll as your normal day-to-day activities are interrupted. Stress is meant to enable you meet challenges, keeping you on toes, focused on the target and make you prioritize competing wants.

There are a myriad of signs and symptoms that make stress less helpful. The way you respond to stress greatly determines how it will affect you physically. You might have deployed the following to deal with stress:

1.     Engaging social prospects

you need to reduce the “fight-or-flight” hormone, adrenaline. This can be done by making use of the vagal nerve. This nerve links the brain and the eye, ear and the hearts sensory receptors. You get a calm feeling when you feel in place and in coordination with the society and vital body functions such as those of the heart, digestion and blood circulation go uninterrupted.

2.     Mobilizing

this is whereby your body responds to stress by producing adrenaline for a “fight-or-flight”. With adrenaline in high concentrations in circulation, some of your body processes at the organic level are interrupted. Most importantly, the gut.

3.     Immobilization

your body’s last resort when the first two approaches bore no fruits. As the name suggests, you could faint. This state puts you in safety away from anger, panic attacks and possible self-harm. Once the stress hormones have levelled off, your nervous system regains consciousness.

Apart from the signs and symptoms stated in the aforementioned 3 states of stress, there are others that occur. They are as shown below:

  1. More often than normal occurrence of colds
  2. Muscle aches and pains
  3. Indigestion marked by flatulence, diarrhea and constipation
  4. Stress gastric ulcers
  5. Reduced sex drive
  6. Pain in the chest area
  7. Increased and racing heartbeat >120 per minute
  8. Increased consumption of drugs and substances of abuse
  9. Eating too little or ‘comfort eating’
  10. Exhibition of aggressive behaviour such as vandalism, picking up fights and shouting
  11. Skin conditions such as change in the color, texture and dermatitis.
  12. Change in your sleep pattern and sleep-wake cycle
  13. Slouching and fidgeting frequently
  14. Grinding your teeth
  15. Stammering
  16. Muscle twitches and tremors of the limbs
  17. Faintness, dizziness and light headedness
  18. Unexplained reactions to allergens that is frequent
  19. Breathing irregularly either as panting or difficulty in breathing.
  20. Panic attacks that can be quite life threatening
  21. Frequent urination
  22. Mood swings and over-reaction observable during a problem approach
  23. Frequent crying
  24. Downfall in your level of hygiene and appearance
  25. Alteration in your weight without change in diet
  26. Malnutrition

Specific Signs in;


Stress is caused by difficult life events, divorce, family issues, overworking and age-related diseases such as psychiatric disorders. Stress-induced death is a real issue and in Japan and China, overworking and death arising from such stress-causing activities has a name – karoshi and guolaosi respectively. OSHRC.

The unfolding of stressors in the environment results in an interplay between various organs of the body resulting in a variety of signs and symptoms. The most common is the brain-gut and gut-brain axis that relies on stimulation of stress circuitries in the brain with an end effect of influencing the balance of intestinal normal gut flora.

This would ultimately result in gut complications including bloating and diarrhea. Women have a natural anti-stress hormone known as oxytocin which is produced during child birth and breastfeeding. This hormone is also present in men but during orgasm. The hormone is however reduce in the presence of testosterone and enhanced by estrogen. It therefore has the most profound effect in women. Nature has its course and way of doing things.

Since women are prone to be more negatively affected when they are not touched and also experience more stress than men in relationships.

The stress hormone is produced in order to brace yourself for a higher set target. However, when you remain in the stressor phase for so long without any instinctive approach to achieve this target, it can negatively affect a woman’s physical and emotional health. American Academy of Family Physicians agree with this fact.

If you were to stay in that phase for long, then you would be increasing your risks of responding unfortunately to the stressor by experiencing hypertensions, strokes and even psychological breakdown.

Thanks to the Social Readjustment Ratings Scale (SRRS) developed by Thomas H. Holmes and Richard Rahe (1967) your emotion can be graded anywhere between 1 and 100 depending on the intensity of the stressor. This has enabled psychiatrists and psychologists to understand different stressors and help the affected overcome them

There are myriads of stress effects on women’s physical and emotional health ranging from the simplest of headaches to more complicated effects such as irritable bowel syndrome. Specific stress effects may include:


  1. Eating disorders – stress may lead to anorexia nervosa and bulimia which happen to be 10 times more common in women than in men. Low levels of serotonin also leads to eating disorders.
  2. Gastrointestinal discomforts – along the brain-gut axis, the stress circuitry may lead to an imbalance of intestinal normal flora and this leads to diarrhea, bloating and flatulence. Reaching out for junk comfort foods may also cause stomach discomforts.
  3. Skin conditions – skin conditions such as hives, acne and eczema may also be linked to stress. When the brain-gut axis is extended to the skin, also affecting the normal skin flora on the skin, these conditions may arise.
  4. Lowered immune response – stress reduces your ability to fight off diseases especially colds.
  5. Heart disease – cardiovascular hypertension has been linked to stressed individuals increasing risks for stroke and heart attack in women.
  6. Sleep disorders – sleep patterns may change when the stressor is all you can think about all night. This makes it hard to initiate sleep and having it fluent till morning.
  7. Emotional instability – depression caused by stress strikes women twice as often as men. The stress can range from postpartum depression, premenstrual to depression after menopause. Women may break down in tears whenever they feel overwhelmed.
  8. Difficulty in concentration – stress will hamper your daily activities with your attention very low.

Children, Toddlers and Babies

Surprisingly, kids and toddlers get stressed too. Stress they encounter is seen in the following situations:

  1. Home environment – when the family is unstable, or they are exposed to abuse, they become stressed. Some significant changes in the family as occurs after a divorce, death, a new home or reconstitution of a family, heightens stress levels. This is due to unfamiliar routines and sometimes a change in response of a care-giver to calls and cries for attention.
  2. Social pressure – toddlers and kids may have a hard time trying to fit in a social setting. Especially that which is new.
  3. Illness – biological stress may result as the body tries to reinstate its normal functioning and this may cause psychological stress.
  4. Separation from parents – fear from separation when parents leave for work triggers the brain-gut pathway and even result in a release of cortisol. This creates separation anxiety since there is a change in the primary care giver. This is normal as they do not know what to expect from you as they do with a care giver they are used to. Getting used to a new environment as happens in school. This puts them under pressure of expectations from the institution, change of routine and new social aspects such as new faces.
  5. Inability to do it by their own – some actions pose as difficult to perform by toddlers and babies. Such may include waking up and standing on their feet on their own. Visiting the loo too and even grasping some objects they are interested in.
  6. Trainings – some trainings are pushed hard into the lives of children. Potty training is one very common cause of wrangle between the care-giver and the child. Whenever a new concept is being introduced, it raises some tension in all including the most cooperative and confident children. When they do not want to do it and they are forced, they become stressed further.

How then does a child, toddler or baby physically show that he/she is stressed? Here’s how:

Toddler and Babies

With every child unique, there are some general signs that show they are stressed. As mentioned by Elizabeth Pantley, who is the author of The No-Cry Separation Anxiety Solution, you should be observant for unusual signs as a parent. Listen to words, watch the behaviors and her eating and sleep pattern.

Check for:

  1. Clingy
  2. Withdrawal from the society
  3. Excessive crying
  4. Throwing tantrums
  5. Change in eating habits
  6. Inability or slow initiation of sleep
  7. Inability to stay asleep for the recommended time
  8. Signs of colic or any other illness
  9. Anxious tics and other body movements
  10. Refractive sucking of the fingers
  11. Abrupt wake-up during sleep indicating nightmares

Teenagers & Children

The youth, teenagers and younger children normally find it hard to air their problems. It will therefore require you to watch carefully for any signs of stress or depression. Some of the things you could look at include:

  1. Too many complains about school or house chores
  2. Clinging to a parent or teacher
  3. Over-sleeping or sleeping too little
  4. Abrupt change in the amount they eat
  5. Withdrawing from their peers
  6. Frequent stomach aches, constipation and diarrhea
  7. Headaches that occur frequently
  8. Changes in skin appearance

These events are all effects the two mechanisms above.

“It is beyond toddlerhood when you get into stress-triggered abdominal pain complaints,” – Chris Tochler, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician, ÕWebMD. Therefore ruling out physical causes of stress, observe the child’s response to different stressful situations.


Men seem to be the ‘macho’ of both sexes and they would simply suppress their stressors and pretend to look strong. In actual sense, they are nearly bursting with tears and qualms. It is therefore important that you recognize warning signs before the affected opts for a regrettable means to fight through the stressor. Here are most of them:

  1. Change in eating habits
  2. Poor memory or forgetfulness
  3. Withdrawing from family and friends
  4. Losing interest in exciting activities he usually enjoys
  5. Excessive drinking and/or drug use.
  6. Having a low self esteem
  7. Headaches, muscle aches and gut discomforts
  8. Change in sleep patterns
  9. Mood swings. Yes, men also get mood swings that as a woman, you need to view it positively.

Physical effects of stress on Body

Stress can have adverse effects on the following parts of the body:

  1. Gastrointestinal system – has an effect on the stomach whereby it affects the rate of digestion and reduces secretions important for the process. This leads to flatulence and nausea. It also causes an imbalance in the normal flora of the intestines leading to diarrhea.
  2. Cardiovascular system – stress causes increased blood pressure and the heart to pump harder. This may lead to hypertensive disorders.
  3. Respiratory system – breathing harder and irregularly may cause panic-attacks in some people.
  4. Endocrine system – the signals sent by the stress circuitry via the hypothalamus to the adrenal gland leads to secretion of cortisol that further triggers release of adrenaline. Adrenaline is responsible for increased heart beat and reduced gut motility.
  5. Nervous system – effects include change cognitive behavior.
  6. Musculoskeletal system – tension in this system, causes contraction of muscle such as of the head causing headaches and other parts of the body causing cramping and pain.
  7. Reproductive system – the stress hormone cortisol could alter the normal functioning of this system. Cortisol has been implicated in chronic stress, to cause reduced production of testosterone, sperm production and a possibility of impotence. In women, stress can reduce sexual desire, cause irregular menstrual cycle or even pain ones.

Physical Effects of Stress on College Students

College students are laden with many tasks that they need to accomplish and at the same time afford to indulge in college social life. Some of the stressors include:

  1. Academic pressures
  2. Juggling work, school and social life
  3. Deadlines
  4. Meeting new people that they have to adjust to such a new lecturers every semester

Fortunately they recognize the emotional effects of such stressors but don’t realize how bad it may be affecting them physically. They may experience:

  1. Upset stomach, bloating and diarrhea
  2. Headaches and muscle pains
  3. Falling sick more often than their colleagues due to a compromised immune system
  4. Change in sleep patterns such as staying awake because of anxiety
  5. Change in weight. May be a gain or a loss depending on how you deal with a stressor.
  6. Breathing harder and in an irregular fashion
  7. Increased blood pressure and heart rate

Physical Effects of Stress during Pregnancy

Stress may affect the fetus development especially the brain. Poor development of the brain may lead to behavioral issues.

Though research and studies done have not mapped a link between maternal stress and pregnancy outcomes, it is an important consideration for mothers-to-be.

Altered neurodevelopmental outcomes result from stress but the vulnerability differs between mothers. There is a linear-dose response effect, with a direct proportionality between the amount and severity of stress and the outcomes. During brain development in the first trimester, the fetus may have negative neurodevelopmental outcomes (Vivette Glover)[i].

Best Ways to Relieve Stress- Reduction Techniques & Tips

There is no sure best way to deal with stress. It all depends on whether you view the method positively or negatively. Many people are concerned with the stress they have in their daily lives and how they can deal with it. It would be preferable to deal with a stressor in a short time as possible as opposed to registering yourself for daily therapy at the doctor’s. Here are some tips:

Men, Women and Children

  1. Deep breathes – close your eyes, inhale deeply and exhale slowly. Repeat several times with the arms raising and spreading with each inhalation. Studies show that doing this lowers the blood pressure and raises the level of cortisol that fights stress.
  2. Exercise – walk, jog on the spot, stretching reduces anxiety. The ‘happy hormones’, endorphins have a magical way of putting a smile on your face.
  3. Meditate – this means taking some time each day before or after stressful activity to focus on your breathing. Listen to the silence and couple this with deep breathes. Visualize a beautiful and peaceful scene.
  4. Take some time off work – distract yourself with other activities that are fun like playing video games or hanging out with friends.
  5. Talk and share – do not suppress stress. Find a friend or a family member who is sympathetic.
  6. Take care of your diet – avoid alcohol; eat enough but not over-eating. These both lead to poor digestion. Alcohol, in particular shields you from the current tremens but once it is out of your system, hangovers ensue and so do your problems, unsolved.
  7. Take on what you can handle – do not overwhelm yourself with work that will tire you too much. Choose to do work that you can deliver within the stipulated deadlines and with the highest quality you could allot. Learn to say “No” to some offers that you think do no measure up to the time you will invest in them.
  8. Listen to some music that you like – as music is said to sooth the soul, it may help you relax and even meditate. Of course meditation requires some soft music.
  9. Aromatherapy – sparking some scent that you love in your house and inhale. Enjoy the feel.
  10. Hug, kiss and talk about sex – these activities have been shown to lower the blood pressure and therefore ease tense moments. They also trigger the release of stress hormones that enable you deal with the stressors.

Toddlers and Babies

  1. Matter-of-fact empathy – acknowledging your baby’s feelings verbally, by body language and change of tone can be of great help. This assures the baby that you understand his/her situation and that you actually share in it. If your baby does not want to go to sleep, make it seem like you too are not for that idea but at the same time heading towards coat.
  2. Stick to the schedule – time allocated for a particular activity should not be tampered with. This will avoid overlap between two or more competing activities such as going to day care or school and sleep hours. Make sure that they get enough of a particular time. This creates calmness. Don’t rush into an item in the schedule that would mean you have snatched some special moment your baby might be having.
  3. Give Extra Hugs and Kisses – cuddle, kiss and hug gently to create comfort and positive energy between the two of you. This will make your baby feel your affection and warmth towards him/her. This will work best when you need to convince a change of plan.
  4. Walk off stress – in a study, research found that infants showed reduced heart rates, reduced body movements and suppressed crying when they were held by an adult in a walking state (Esposito et al 2013).
  5. Make yourself emotionally available at bedtime – when you let your baby sleep alone just after sharing a mother-baby time, tension may build up at night. This may be due to separation anxiety or a call for more attention and affection. It will be best if you roomed in with your baby for some time. This has been proven by a study in which a social stressor, “strange situation” was used to create tension in 12-month old babies. It was found that those babies who spent more time sleeping with their care-givers, had less cortisol activity. (Beijers et al 2013).

Sources and Citations

  1. OSHRC Newsletter More mental disorders or suicide may be certified as occupation-related. 2001 Jan ;( 22):57.
  2. Õ
  3. [i] The Effects of Prenatal Stress on Child Behavioral and Cognitive Outcomes Start at the Beginning; Vivette Glover, MA, PhD, DSc; Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology, Imperial College London, United Kingdom January 2011


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