Symptoms of stress

Stress is an elevation in your state of arousal or readiness, caused by a stimulus or demand. As stress arousal increases, your health and performance actually improve. Within manageable levels, stress can help sharpen your attention and mobilize your body to cope with threatening situations.

At some point, stress arousal reaches maximum effect, however, and once it does, everything you gained through stress arousal is lost, and your health and performance begin to deteriorate. The stress response becomes problematic when it does not—or cannot—turn off;  that is, when your symptoms last too long or interfere with your daily life.

Common Stress Reactions


  • Increase or decrease in activity level
  • Substance use or abuse (alcohol or drugs)
  • Difficulty communicating or listening
  • Irritability, outbursts of anger, frequent arguments
  • Inability to rest or relax
  • Decline in job performance; absenteeism
  • Frequent crying
  • Hyper-vigilance or excessive worry
  • Avoidance of activities or places that trigger memories
  • Becoming accident prone


  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Headaches, other aches and pains
  • Visual disturbances
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Sweating or chills
  • Tremors or muscle twitching
  • Being easily startled
  • Chronic fatigue or sleep disturbances
  • Immune system disorders


  • Feeling heroic, euphoric, or invulnerable
  • Denial
  • Anxiety or fear
  • Depression
  • Guilt
  • Apathy
  • Grief


  • Memory problems
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Slow thought processes; lack of concentration
  • Difficulty setting priorities or making decisions
  • Loss of objectivity


  • Isolation
  • Blaming
  • Difficulty in giving or accepting support or help
  • Inability to experience pleasure or have fun

From “A Guide to Managing Stress in Crisis Response Professions” published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services