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Stress and anxiety

Definition

Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension. It can come from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous.

Anxiety is a feeling of fear, unease, and worry. The source of these symptoms is not always known.

Alternative Names

Anxiety; Feeling uptight; Stress; Tension; Jitters; Apprehension

Considerations

Stress is a normal feeling. In small amounts, stress can help you get things done. Stress does not affect everyone the same way.

Many people feel stress symptoms in their body. You may have pain in the abdomen, headaches, and muscle tightness or pain.

When you are very stressed, you may notice:

  • A faster heart rate
  • Skipped heartbeats
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Dizziness

Other symptoms include:

  • Loose stools
  • Frequent need to urinate
  • Dry mouth
  • Problems swallowing

You may have a harder time focusing, feel tired most of the time, or lose your temper more often. Stress may also cause sexual problems. It can also cause problems with falling or staying asleep and cause nightmares.

Causes

Many people have stress when they need to adapt or change.

Examples are:

  • Starting a new job or losing a job
  • Starting at a new school
  • Moving to a new home
  • Getting married or divorced
  • Having a child
  • Breaking up with someone

An injury or illness to you, a friend, or a loved one is a common cause of stress. Feelings of stress and anxiety are common in people who feel depressed and sad.

When these feelings happen often, a person may have an anxiety disorder. Other health problems that can lead to stress are:

Some medicines may cause or worsen symptoms of stress.

These can include:

  • Some inhaler medicines used to treat asthma
  • Thyroid drugs
  • Some diet pills
  • Some cold remedies

Caffeine, cocaine, alcohol, and tobacco products may also cause or make symptoms of stress or anxiety worse.

Home Care

What relieves stress is not the same for everyone. Making certain lifestyle changes is the best start.

Start with eating a well-balanced, healthy diet as well as getting enough sleep and exercise. Also, limit caffeine and alcohol intake. Do not use nicotine, cocaine, or other street drugs.

Finding healthy, fun ways to cope with stress may help. Learn and practice ways to relax. Find out about yoga, tai chi, or meditation.

Take breaks from work. Balance fun activities with your job and family duties. Schedule leisure time every day. Spend time with people you enjoy, including your family.

Try learning to make things with your hands, playing an instrument, or listening to music.

Think about what might be giving you stress. Keep a diary of what is going on when you have these feelings. Then, find someone you trust who will listen to you. Often just talking to a friend or loved one is all that you need to feel better. Check if your community has support groups and hotlines.

Ask your health care provider if any drugs or medicines you are taking can cause anxiety.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call a suicide hotline if you have thoughts of suicide.

Reasons you may want to seek more help are:

  • You have feelings of panic, such as dizziness, rapid breathing, or a racing heartbeat.
  • You are unable to work or function at home or at your job.
  • You have fears that you cannot control.
  • You are having memories of a traumatic event.

Do not stop taking any prescribed medicines without talking to your doctor.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your doctor will want to know what medicines you are taking. Your doctor will also want to know if you use alcohol or drugs. You will have a physical exam and maybe some blood tests.

Your doctor may refer you to a mental health care provider. You can talk to this professional about your feelings, what seems to make your stress better or worse, and why you think you are having this problem.

Sometimes, medicines may help treat your symptoms.

References

Larzelere MM, Jones GN. Stress and health. Prim Care. 2008;35:839-856.

Ahmed SM, Lemkau JP, Hershberger PJ. Psychosocial influences on health. In: Rakel RE, ed. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 3.


Review Date: 2/24/2014
Reviewed By: Fred K. Berger, MD, Addiction and Forensic Psychiatrist, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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