Maybe your supervisor is unavailable and you now have to deal with a demanding client. Perhaps you're 45 minutes late to your own engagement party. Or you have no clue how you're going to pay for your son's college tuition. No matter the cause, these types of demands result in stress.

Symptoms of Stress

The Symptoms of Stress
Frequent blushing or sweating; excess guilt, worry, anxiety, and nervousness; depression and mood swings; insomnia, nightmares, or disturbing dreams; increased alcohol, smoking, or drug use; difficulty making decisions, feeling overwhelmed or overloaded

Source: American Psychological Association

Stress wears down the body in ways you might not have even considered. Continued and prolonged stress can trigger a number of harmful behaviors and effects.

Have you noticed any of these symptoms either in yourself or a friend? If so, use the following tips to identify when you're experiencing symptoms of stress and learn how best to respond.

How Stress Affects the Body

Physical Effects of Stress on Your Body
It causes muscles to tense up. If this happens over a long period of time, pain in the neck and shoulders can increase, and headaches may occur It may cause your difficulty breathing. In some cases, this could result in a panic attack. Chronic stress in men can decrease testosterone and sperm production and cause impotence. Women with chronic stress may experience absent or irregular menstrual cycles. It may also cause painful periods and reduced sexual desire. Stress can upset your digestive system and cause diarrhea or constipation.

Source: The American Institute of Stress

Acute stress occurs when something happens suddenly. For example, you might experience it when you realize you've overslept for an important meeting or when you hit the car in front of you. These events trigger a more rapid heart rate and intense contractions of the heart muscle via the release of stress hormones, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). Once the event passes, the body returns to its normal state.

Chronic stress, on the other hand, is constant. If chronic stress is an issue, you could be at risk for headaches, muscle soreness, trouble breathing, and problems with the endocrine, nervous, and reproductive systems.

It also has a significant effect on your heart. The prolonged increase in heart rate and elevated levels of the stress hormones cause high blood pressure and put undue stress on your heart, according to the APA.

The American Heart Association (AHA) calls high blood pressure the “silent killer,” and says if left untreated could lead to a stroke, heart failure, a heart attack, or kidney disease.

The AHA notes the difficulty those suffering from depression and stress have with exercising or with smoking, eating unhealthy foods, or consuming alcohol. It's no surprise, then, that the APA has found that while 20% experience depression at some point in their lives, that number jumps to 50% in those with heart disease.

Stress and depression cause heart problems through elevated levels of stress hormones. But it's also important to understand how they can lead to other risk factors.

Management vs. Elimination of Stress

Learning how to deal with stress is more effective than trying to eliminate it. Consider these tips from the American Heart Association on how to better manage stress:

  • Think positively.Thinking positively (or negatively) tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Take a walk. Some light exercise is always a great tonic for the stress of our lives.
  • Consider meditation. A large factor in our unhappiness is the number of thoughts flying around our head every second. Take 15 minutes to clear your mind.
  • Do something you enjoy. When you are feeling lost, fall back on something you are good at for a little bit. It'll give you the confidence to tackle the problems ahead.
  • Don't be afraid to say sorry. Sometimes the mistake may be yours. Own up to it, and you'll find that a large weight will be lifted from your shoulders.