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The Physical Symptoms of Stress

headache from stress

Have you ever noticed experiencing a headache during times of emotional turmoil in your life? Or lower back pain when you’re depressed? Somatic symptoms are symptoms that are expressed in the body. Oftentimes people who are experiencing stress don’t take the time to take care of themselves and “address the stress” in their lives. If we get really good at monitoring our somatic experience (what’s happening with our bodies), there are endless clues that can help us stay aware. The awareness of our somatic experience can help us know when it’s time to practice self care, cut back on commitments, or remove ourselves from a stressful situation.

With that in mind, here are a few symptoms that people frequently experience when they are stressed. By practicing mindfulness and somatic awareness, you may be able to prevent these symptoms before they start. For example, if you frequently get migraines during stressful times, and you notice a slight twinge of tightness or discomfort between your eyes or at your temples, that could be a sign for you to take a few deep breaths, ensure you’re practicing good self care, and identify ways to decrease any stressful or emotional triggers you might currently be engaging in.

One important thing to keep in mind about these symptoms is they are easily misdiagnosed as something else. It wouldn’t be unusual for someone with regular indigestion or stomach pains to seek out help for a stomach problem. Of course any ongoing symptom should be discussed not only with your therapist but also with a doctor, so you can rule out any physical causes. Keeping a diary can be an excellent way to monitor your symptoms and what their potential causes are. Diligently record your symptoms, personal and work events and nutritional intake in a journal to review and look for patterns with your doctor and therapist. Are you getting your headache every time you have a deadline at work? Or is it happening anytime you drink caffeine? Information is power, so I always recommend taking a critical look at all the potential symptoms, and never assuming you know what the cause is based on how it presents in your body.

Here’s a list of some physical symptoms of stress—it’s certainly not exhaustive, so please feel free to share your own experiences of stress symptoms (and your tips for dealing with them!) in the comments below.

  1. Insomnia, waking up in the night, nightmares

  2. Headaches or migraines

  3. Muscle spasms (including eye twitches)

  4. Nausea, stomach pain, indigestion

  5. Heart burn

  6. Rapid pulse or palpitations

  7. Dizziness, faintness or feeling lightheaded

  8. Forgetfulness

  9. Chest pains

  10. Muscle aches and pains (including lower back pain)

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