Silent Symptoms of Stress

Stress is a very common emotional health issue that South Asians face and it has very serious long term emotional and physical consequences. Stress can be caused by both negative events (e.g. death of a loved one, loss of a job, unhealthy relationships, etc.) as well as positive events (e.g. graduation, marriage, birth of a child, raising children, etc.).

Most people believe they understand their triggers for stress; however, here are some common silent signals from your body indicating that you are overloaded by stress:


  • Research at University of Colorado, Boulder found that stress (from divorce or unemployment for example) causes your immune system to react the way it does when fighting off an infection. This results in fatigue or even a fever, which forces you to slow down. Fatigue may be caused by insomnia that is a common side effect of anxiety when you are stressed.

Memory loss

  • Find yourself forgetting things often? You may be over stressed. To protect the body, hormones are released during acute stressful experiences (e.g. car accident) to suppress short-term memory. These effects (unless caused by a head trauma) are temporary. However, under chronic stress, long-lasting impairments in memory can develop due to permanent alterations in the structure of nerve cells in the brain.

Jaw pain

  • Most people who are under tremendous stress, feel pressure and pain in their jaw because they clench their jaw muscles when they are asleep and awake. In fact, bruxism (a sleep disorder characterized by teeth grinding) is a common side effect of chronic stress. If you find your jaw or temples hurting in the morning, you are probably under high levels of stress.

Sighing often

  • Chronic stress puts a strain on the adrenal glands to produce high levels of cortisol and adrenaline to keep up with the stressful event or lifestyle. This ultimately results in overworking the glands and one of the first signs that the glands need a break is if you find yourself sighing frequently.

Sickness more often

  • High levels of cortisol and adrenaline in the body lowers immunity and makes you more susceptible to illnesses, such as the common cold. This is often the reason why after even positive changes such as a wedding or graduation that people fall ill.

Extra painful periods

  • Stress intensifies the pain that is associated with a woman’s menstrual cycle. If you find that one month is particularly painful, it is likely that you have been experiencing a significant amount of stress.

Gastrointestinal problems

  • Hormones released during stressful events are multiplied, continue being produced and remain in the blood stream for an extended period of time when stress is chronic. These hormones affect the health of the gastrointestinal tract and you may find yourself more often with an upset stomach, irritable bowel syndrome or other gastrointestinal illnesses.

Headaches and backaches

  • Physical symptoms such as headaches and backaches are common for people with extended periods of stress. Emotional stress is one of the most common triggers for migraines and tension headaches. Hormones that are released during stress change the structure of blood vessels and cause these headaches.

Asthma attacks and Allergy flare-ups

  • Research conducted at Ohio State by Janice Kiecolt-Glaser found that stress increases the severity of allergic reactions and can exacerbate skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. It is thought that hormones secreted due to chronic stress may stimulate the production of a protein that causes allergic reactions. If you find yourself sneezing more often or experiencing flare ups, don’t just look for environmental triggers, but try to identify any new sources of stress.

Sadness or depression

  • Depression is a very common side effect of chronic stress. This is not only because you can feel overwhelmed by the stressful situation causing depressive symptoms, but depression is caused also by the presence of stress hormones and the fatigue that comes from overworking the adrenal glands.

If you notice yourself experiencing at least one of these symptoms above, before popping a pill, think about the stressors in your life, both chronic and acute. Most likely these symptoms can be maintained if not cured with a change in lifestyle and an increase in stress management skills.

For more guidance on how to cope with stress, please visit our resources page to contact a physician or mental health professional.

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