Stress can occur for many reasons, such as moving to a new home, losing a job, or starting a family. It is normal for people to be more emotional when they are stressed.
People experience a variety of symptoms when stressed.
This article explores some of the emotional signs of stress. It also outlines treatments and strategies to manage and prevent stress.
Around 10% of people in the United States experience depression at any one time. Symptoms include:
- difficulty feeling motivated or hopeful
- struggling to enjoy normal daily activities, such as food, sex, and social interactions
- difficulty sleeping
- an inability to concentrate
A 2015 study suggests that psychological stress may be a factor in people developing depression.
One way that stress may increase the risk of developing depression is how it affects the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This is the body’s hormonal stress-response system.
When people become stressed, the HPA axis activates, and glucocorticoids release into the blood, including the hormone cortisol.
These may reduce the volume of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that affects how we react to emotions. When the hippocampus shrinks, this may lead to symptoms of depression.
A doctor may prescribe the following treatments for depression.
Anxiety is a condition where people experience high stress levels to prepare for events or situations they perceive as threatening.
There are many different anxiety disorders, each with their own symptoms, but common signs include:
- fear or stress about a certain circumstance or in general
- rapid heart rate
- sweating and feeling dizzy
A 2015 study looked at the association between work and life stress and anxiety and depression.
People can experience stress during their jobs due to internationalization and working in the service industries. Work stress may increase the stress that people experience at home and in their overall lives.
The study found that job insecurity and stress at home significantly increases the risk of anxiety and depression.
Treatments for anxiety include:
- antidepressants, such as citalopram and venlafaxine
- benzodiazepines for short-term anxiety
- beta-blockers to control rapid heart rate and other physical symptoms
- psychotherapy, such as CBT
Some people may experience feelings of irritability and anger when they are stressed.
A 2015 study found that people who experienced high levels of stress also became irritable and angry. In turn, this led to an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease.
Another study suggests that anger and stress have a cyclical relationship.
People who suppress their anger believe that they experience more stress than those who let out their anger and irritability in a safe way. For this reason, suppressing anger may lead to more rage.
People experiencing anger and irritability may consider the following treatments:
There are many ways that stress can lead to mood swings. For example, symptoms of depression include sudden mood changes.
However, other stress triggers may also bring on mood swings.
A 2019 study found that when children and teenagers used social media, they tend to have mood swings and body dissatisfaction, and negatively compare themselves to others.
Another study found that sleep disruption led to an increase in stress and sudden mood swings.
Mood swings are not necessarily a cause for concern, and they often do not require treatment.
A person should take note if they experience mood swings after exposure to certain circumstances, such as using social media. Taking a break or avoiding those scenarios may improve mood.
If the mood swings are due to another condition, such as sleep disruption, or if they negatively impact daily life and activities, a person may need to see a doctor who can diagnose any underlying conditions.
Stress and loneliness have a cyclical relationship. People experiencing loneliness and social isolation have increased activity of the HPA axis, which can lead to stress.
Similarly, stress also increases the activity of the HPA axis. People who feel lonely and isolated are also more likely to form poor lifestyle habits that increase stress.
People who experience loneliness or a sense of isolation may consider forming or being part of a social network. This could include making more time to see family or friends, or meeting new people by joining support groups, classes, clubs, or social events.
Certain jobs or circumstances may make a person feel an overwhelming amount of emotional stress.
For example, a 2016 study that looked at occupational stress in nurses found several work-related factors that led to overwhelming emotional stress. These included conflicts with colleagues and supervisors and caring for patients.
Stress has an association with addictive behaviors.
If a person experiences prolonged stress, they are more at risk of developing substance use disorders than those who do not have long-term symptoms.
People who have depression and anxiety, which are also associated with stress, are also more likely to have a substance use disorder.
Stress may change how the brain works, making it more likely that the brain will form addictive and habitual behaviors.
Support groups that focus on the substance a person uses may help them treat addictive behaviors.
A person with addictive behaviors or substance use issues could also consider talking to a healthcare professional.
Stress can increase or decrease a person’s appetite.
A 2017 study found that stress may increase the amount of cortisol and insulin in the body. This may make people more likely to crave and consume more food than they would without being stressed.
However, some people may also notice a decrease in appetite.
If a person experiences depression and anxiety alongside stress, they may find that they lose their appetite. This may be because the body cannot monitor or notify a person’s brain that they are hungry.
Eating a healthful, balanced diet may decrease the chances a person will unintentionally gain or lose weight.
High levels of stress can negatively impact a person’s ability to recall and form new memories.
A 2015 study found that the more intense the stress a person experiences, or the longer they were under stress, the less likely they could learn or remember new things.
This is because stress affects the way the hippocampus works. This is the part of the brain responsible for learning new information and forming memories.
A person who believes stress may be impacting their memory can consider trying to reduce these stressful factors. They may also try memory recall techniques to help improve their memory.
Stress can affect a person’s sex drive, either negatively or positively.
A 2018 study found that stress and depression negatively impact sex drive in postmenopausal females.
However, a 2014 study found that young females with stress, anxiety, and depression were more likely to have sex than females without these conditions.
The researchers suggest this may be because these conditions made the females in the study more likely to participate in high-risk behaviors.
A 2016 study found middle-aged or older males with high levels of stress were more likely to experience erectile dysfunction compared with those who experienced lower stress levels.
A person who believes stress may be lowering their sex drive may consider the following treatments:
- therapy that aims to improve emotional and sexual intimacy between partners
- hormone replacement medication
- medications, such as Viagra
Stress is a condition that most people will experience in their lives, so learning how to manage it is an important skill.
The American Institute of Stress suggest some of the following may help reduce stress in a healthful way:
- meditation and relaxation
- massages and acupuncture sessions
- knitting and other crafts
- volunteering and other hobbies
- keeping a journal of stressful events
- nutritional supplements
- medications, such as antidepressants and beta-blockers
People will find that certain strategies help them manage their stress more than others. It is important to try several techniques to see which ones provide the best support for them.
The best way to prevent stress is to find out which circumstances are stressful and, if possible, avoid those situations.
If this is not feasible, a person can use various techniques to help manage stress. They may also want to talk to a doctor.
People should see a doctor if symptoms of stress affect their ability to participate in daily activities.
A doctor may prescribe medication or refer them to support organizations, psychotherapy, or other specialist help.
People will experience stress at different points in their lives.
A person is more likely to manage their symptoms if they can isolate the triggers for stress and apply stress management techniques.
Prescription medication may help people with stress symptoms, such as depression or anxiety, better than other management techniques independently.
Stress is a condition that most people will experience at some point in their lives.
Life changes, such as moving to a new home or starting a family, can cause stress. Jobs where people have a lot of responsibility can also cause stress.
This condition has several emotional symptoms, some of which may need medical treatment.
However, people could reduce their stressors by using stress management techniques. They may also consider seeing a doctor to explore other options.