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Stress: Feeling Stressed? Possible Causes, Related Health Conditions, & Ways to Reduce Your Stress

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Last updated February 27, 2021

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Understand your general anxiety (stress) symptoms, including 6 causes and common questions.

Stress questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your stress.

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Stress symptoms

Stress is likely to strike at some point in your day, whether it be at home, on the job, or somewhere in between. Stress is the body's natural way of preparing for a challenge ahead; however, frequent or excessive general anxiety symptoms can be harmful. We all react differently under pressure, so symptoms vary between individuals and can be both physical and emotional.

Physical general anxiety symptoms

Symptoms of general anxiety or stress may manifest as the following, affecting different areas of your body.

Emotional general anxiety symptoms

Symptoms of general anxiety or stress may manifest as the following feelings or emotions.

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Sadness or depression
  • Worry
  • Losing touch with family or friends
  • Lack of motivation
  • Feeling on edge

6 causes of stress

Many causes of stress, like financial trouble or family issues, can feel beyond our control. Sometimes exciting events are the most stressful. However, there are also everyday behaviors that can contribute to feeling stressed. In rare cases, there may be a medical cause that requires treatment from a physician.

Lifestyle causes

It's perfectly normal to experience a certain amount of anxiety or stress during the following lifestyle changes.

  • Moving: Packing up your house to live in unfamiliar surroundings can be one of the most stressful events.
  • Relationships: Your best friends or partner can bring a lot of happiness; however, conflicts are a common part of life.
  • Changes in the family: Getting married or having a baby are causes for celebration, but they may require big adjustments. Getting divorced can also be stressful and emotionally draining.
  • Holidays: You may excess feel pressure to buy gifts, attend parties, and host in-laws.
  • Finances: As your cost of living rises or new expenses come into play, your paycheck may not stretch as far as it used to.

Behavioral causes

The following activities or habits may be contributing to your general anxiety or stress.

  • Working long hours: Having a heavy workload and spending late nights at the office frequently leads to increased stress. Sitting for long periods of time is also tied to anxiety.
  • Giving up vacation days: The body and mind need time to recharge. Time off can increase productivity when you return to work.
  • Neglecting a good night's rest: Most people need about 7-8 hours of sleep each night .
  • Not exercising: Exercise is frequently the first thing to be neglected in a busy schedule.
  • Procrastinating: Working to the last minute is a classic cause of stress that can be avoided with better planning.
  • Setting unrealistic expectations: We all strive to do our best, but setting impossible goals is counterproductive.

Causes related to substance use

Substances that can exacerbate anxiety or stress may include the following.

  • Caffeine: Coffee or energy drinks can make you feel more alert, but they can worsen underlying symptoms of stress.
  • Alcohol: Some people find moderate alcohol consumption helpful, but over time, it can make stress harder to treat.
  • Recreational drugs: Stimulants like cocaine and amphetamine are major offenders.

Stress questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your stress.

Stress symptom checker

Mental health causes

Causes of general anxiety or stress related to your mental health may include the following.

  • Depression: If you're feeling down, it can be hard to turn things around especially without professional help.
  • Anxiety: While some level of worry is normal, people with anxiety disorders struggle to cope with everyday tasks that can quickly pile up.

Medical causes

Causes of general anxiety or stress related to medical conditions may include the following.

  • Overactive thyroid: If this gland is working too hard, it can cause stress-like symptoms.
  • Hormone imbalances: Hormones are the body's natural way of generating a stress response, but this process can spiral out of control.
  • Poor overall health: Declining health takes many forms and can take a serious toll.

Panic disorder

Panic disorder is a chronic condition that involves repeated episodes of panic attacks, as well as worry about future attacks or consequences of attacks, or unhelpful changes in behavior to avoid the attacks. Panic attacks are episodes of sudden-onset fear, discomfort, and/or other symptoms tha..

Generalized anxiety disorder (gad)

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health problems in the United States. Generalized anxiety disorder refers to ongoing feelings of worry and anxiousness that persists for at least six months. Generalized anxiety disorder seems to run in families, making some individuals more vulnerable to stressors than others.

Symptoms include constant feelings of worry over both major and everyday events, difficulty concentrating or sleeping, feeling tired, irritability, as well as physical symptoms, such as headaches and body aches.

The diagnosis is made by patient history and physical examination to rule out physical causes. The individual may be referred to a mental health specialist for further evaluation and treatment, which may involve talk therapy to learn new ways to manage stress, medications, and lifestyle adjustments.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, trouble sleeping, general anxiety (stress), irritability, nausea

Symptoms that always occur with generalized anxiety disorder (gad): general anxiety (stress)

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Panic or anxiety attack(s)

Panic or anxiety attacks are sudden feelings of intense fear or stress without true danger. Symptoms usually peak and then decrease within minutes. One may feel as if they are losing control or have physical symptoms like sweating or a racing heart. A panic attack can be a very scary experience and should be taken seriously.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms:

Symptoms that always occur with panic or anxiety attack(s): anxiety or anxiety/panic attacks

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Specific phobia disorder

There are many specific phobias. Acrophobia is a fear of heights. Agoraphobia is a fear of public places, and claustrophobia is a fear of closed-in places. If you become anxious and extremely self-conscious in everyday social situations, you could have a social phobia. Other common phobias involve tunnels, highway driving, water, flying, animals and blood.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: anxiety, anxiety from a specific situation, fear of heights, fear of blood or injections, fear of enclosed spaces

Symptoms that always occur with specific phobia disorder: anxiety from a specific situation

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Acute Dtress Disorder

Acute stress disorder (ASD) is a psychological condition caused by trauma, especially by any violent attack such as robbery, assault, or combat. "Acute" means that clear symptoms appear within days of the traumatic event. Most susceptible are those with a previous history o...

Overactive Thyroid

The thyroid is a small, bow-tie shaped gland in your neck. Its main job is to produce thyroid hormone (known as T3 or T4), which serves a wide array of functions throughout the body.

When too much thyroid hormone is released, the body’s metabolism gets ramped up, causing symptoms ...

Stress relief

Everyone experiences stress differently, so it's important to identify your unique triggers. There are several common treatments described below that may require a consult from a professional.

Time management

Perhaps you feel that time is your worst enemy and the biggest contributor to your feelings of anxiety and stress. Consider the following suggestions.

  • Talk to your boss: Sometimes a lighter workload or flexible schedule, even if it's only temporary, can be enough to resolve your stress.
  • Keep a schedule: Try to stay organized and make a checklist of any responsibilities.
  • Don't procrastinate: Try to get work or other tasks completed on time.

At-home treatments

Treatment methods that can begin at home and within your support group (friends, family, trusted coworkers, or organized groups) include the following.

  • Meditation: Practice daily reflection to stay ahead of the physical effects of stress [7]. There are many apps or internet resources that teach these skills.
  • Deep breathing: Deep breathing relieves tension and allows your heart rate to normalize. Breathe in slowly through your nose for 10 seconds, hold for five, and exhale through pursed lips for 10 seconds. Repeat this as many times as you need.
  • Exercise: Physical activity doesn't have to take place at a gym. Walking around your neighborhood or taking the stairs can make a big difference.
  • Use vacation days: Time off is important, so try not to let those vacation days expire at the end of the year.
  • Talk to family or friends: Sometimes this is the best way to get through a stressful time. Loved ones know you as well as you know yourself, if not better, and they can probably offer helpful advice.

Stress questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your stress.

Stress symptom checker

When to see a doctor

If stress becomes severe or overwhelming, you should consult a physician. He or she can recommend therapy or medications.

When it is an emergency

You should call 911 or go to the emergency room if:

  • Stress is so overwhelming that you have thoughts of harming or killing yourself
  • You have thoughts of harming others
  • You feel you need immediate support and cannot wait for help


Avoid common pitfalls that contribute to anxiety or stress, such as the following.

  • Excessive alcohol use: Though some find alcohol to be soothing at first, it can make stress worse and harder to treat in the long run.
  • Smoking
  • Overeating

FAQ's about stress

What are the symptoms of stress?

Stress may cause sleeplessness, a feeling of "being on edge," racing thoughts, and mental or physical fatigue. It may be accompanied by nightmares or vivid memories of a particular incident or time period or along a particular theme. It can also cause shortness of breath, tingling at the fingertips, heart fluttering or chest tingling — often associated with hyperventilating.

What are stressors?

Stressors can be anything that increases your stress level. Work, school, relationships, home life, illness, or finances are common stressors. Stressors change depending on the person and can either be identified by an individual's physical response to the stressor or by a feeling of worry or anxiety caused by thoughts of the stressor.

What causes stress?

Stress is caused by the activation of the body's sympathetic nervous system. The "fight or flight" system prepares the body to fight and works best in short bursts. Chronic stress may cause cardiovascular problems (problems with your blood vessels and heart), metabolic problems (problems maintaining or losing weight), sleep problems, and mental health problems.

Can stress cause other symptoms?

Stress can also be associated with gastrointestinal distress, which can include constipation, stomach cramps, or loose stools. Stress can also cause restlessness and poor sleep. It can cause distraction and poor performance at home or at work. Stress may cause mental slowing or an inability to remember short-term instructions or recall facts from long ago.

What can stress do to the body?

Stress can do a number of things to the body, including cause weight loss or gain, sleep disturbances, increased aggression or depression, and high blood pressure. The best way to understand the effects of stress on your body is to keep a stress diary and speak with a health professional.

Questions your doctor may ask about stress

  • Are you feeling irritable (easily made upset)?
  • Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Do you have trouble sleeping?
  • Are your symptoms causing difficulty at work, socializing, or spending time with friends & family?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Share your story

Dr. Wilkinson received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania and his BA from Princeton University where he was the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Princetonian. He is currently a resident in psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. Outside of the hospital, Jack worked as an editor at The JoongAng Daily of South Korea and a freelance writer.

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