Systematic Stress Management Program

Step 1: Understanding Stress Section

Common Symptoms of Distress

Most people have symptoms of distress every day. Many times we accept them as part of a normal day. In order to reduce the wear and tear upon the body, one must first increase awareness. Read over the list that follows. Make a mental note or place a mark next to those items that relate to you -- especially when you experience stress. Go back and make a second mark if you experience this symptom frequently. Write in any other symptoms you experience when feeling stressed. It may be wise to discuss those items checked twice with a health professional. While many conditions are stress related, this does not mean that they do not require medical attention to reduce the wear and tear upon the body. At any rate, these symptoms can be wake-up calls to action for increased self-care or medical intervention.


Notice that the symptoms are divided into four groups. This can be helpful when later selecting stress management techniques.

Skeletal Muscles

Physical Symptoms of Distress Involving Skeletal Muscles

1.  Tension headaches

2.  Frowning

3.  Gritting or grinding of teeth

4.  Jaw pain

5.  Stuttering or stammering

6.  Trembling of lips or hands

7.  Muscle tenseness, bracing, and aches

8.  Neck aches

9.  Back pain

10. Aggressive body language

Nervous System

Physical Symptoms of Distress Involving the Autonomic Nervous System

1.  Migraine headaches

2.  Increased sensitivity to light and sound

3.  Lightheadedness, faintness, or dizziness

4.  Ringing in ears

5.  Enlarged pupils

6.  Blushing

7.  Dry mouth

8.  Problems swallowing

9.  Frequent colds or bouts with the flu

10. Hives

11. Rashes

12. “Cold chills,” or “goose bumps”

13. Heartburn, stomach cramping, or nausea

14. Uneven or rapid heartbeat without exercising

15. Difficulty breathing

16. Sudden, suffocating panic, as if you are about to die

17. Heart and chest pain

18. Increased perspiration

19. Night sweats

20. Cold, sweaty hands

21. Painfully cold hands and feet

22. Gaseousness or belching

23. Frequent urination

24. Constipation

25. Nervous diarrhea

26. Lowered sexual desire

27. Difficulty with sexual orgasm

Mental Symptoms of Distress

1.  Anxiety, worry, guilt, or nervousness

2.  Increased anger and frustration

3.  Moodiness

4.  Depression

5.  Increased or decreased appetite

6.  Racing thoughts

7.  Nightmares

8.  Problems concentrating

9.  Trouble learning new information

10. Forgetfulness

11. Disorganization or confusion

12. Difficulty making decisions

13. A sense of being overloaded or overwhelmed by problems

14. More frequent crying

15. Suicidal thoughts

16. Fear of getting close to people

17. Loneliness

Behavioral Symptoms of Distress

1.  Inattention to dress or grooming

2.  More frequent lateness

3.  A more “serious” appearance

4.  Unusual behavior

5.  Nervous habits, such as finger or foot tapping

6.  Rushing around or pacing the floor

7.  Increased frustration and irritability

8.  Edginess

9.  Overreaction to small things

10. Increased number of minor accidents

11. Perfectionism

12. Reduced work efficiency or productivity

13. Lies or excuses to cover up poor work

14. Fast or mumbled speech

15. Defensiveness or suspiciousness

16. Strained communication with others

17. Social withdrawal

18. Constant tiredness

19. Sleep problems

20. Frequent use of over-the-counter drugs

21. Weight gain or loss without diet

22. Increased smoking

23. Recreational drug use

24. Increased alcohol use

25. Gambling or overspending

(Taken from: “The Doctor’s Guide to Instant Stress Relief: A Psychological and Medical System” by Ronald G. Nathan, Ph.D., Albany Medical College, New York, Thomas E. Staats, Ph.D., Louisiana State University School of Medicine in Shreveport, Paul J. Rosch, M.D., The American Institute of Stress, New York.)

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