Understanding Your Response to Stress

Any change in your life can lead to stress. This includes even pleasurable activities, such as vacations or new forms of recreation. You can also be in a stressful situation such as a difficult job or a long-term illness of a spouse. If you think you might be experiencing stress, this assessment may help you identify its effects on you.

You probably know some of the common signs of stress. They include a pounding heart, sweaty palms, and feeling anxious. But you may respond to stress in many other ways too, from feeling irritable to driving recklessly. Recognizing how you react to stress is an important step toward managing it.

Everyone responds to stress differently. This assessment will help you identify your particular stress profile. Listed below are the kinds of physical, mental, and emotional responses people may have to stress—some of which you may not have considered before. Review these lists and think about which reactions apply to you when you’re under stress. Check all the reactions you have experienced in stressful situations.

In each category, check any symptoms you’ve had in the past month. Remember, the reactions you choose may be indicators of stress. But stress is only one of the possible causes of these symptoms. Talk with your health care provider if you have questions or concerns about the items you check.

Your physical reactions:

Your thoughts and feelings:

Your actions:

About Your Stress Profile

Because everyone responds to stress differently, it’s important to recognize your own stress profile. Recognizing when you’re under stress is an important step toward learning to manage it. Review the items you checked below. Some or all of these reactions may make up your stress profile.

You have not selected any of the common symptoms of stress from the list. Since you did not check any reactions to stress, stress level is probably low. However, any event has the potential of causing stress. You might want to review the ways to decrease reactions to stress in the ‘Minimize Stress’ section below. That way, when you do have a stress response, you’ll have tools to help you cope with it.

Your physical reactions

  • Tightness in the chest
  • Muscle aches (neck, shoulders, back, or legs)
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Problems with digestive system
  • Change in appetite (increase or decrease)
  • Tense muscles and muscle cramps
  • Sleep problems (too much or too little)
  • Nervous habits (nail biting, tongue clucking)
  • Dry mouth or throat
  • High blood pressure
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Pounding heart
  • Grinding teeth
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nervous tic
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Frequent colds

Your thoughts and feelings

  • Wanting to cry, or crying easily
  • Getting upset about little annoyances
  • Feeling low self-esteem
  • Feeling fearful and anxious
  • Feeling tired most of the time
  • Always feeling rushed
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Being forgetful
  • Feeling confused
  • Feeling impatient
  • Feeling irritable
  • Feeling like nobody likes you
  • Lacking joy
  • Feeling helpless
  • Worrying

Your actions

  • Not getting along with people
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Not trusting people
  • Lowered sex drive
  • Being more or less active than usual
  • Driving recklessly
  • Lashing out
  • Getting angry easily
  • Making errors
  • Turning to alcohol, tobacco, or drugs for relief

The items you checked may be responses to the stress in your life. The more items you checked, the more likely stress is having an impact on your life. Stress can affect your body, mind, emotions, and behavior. Although a little stress isn’t harmful, persistent, long-term stress can raise your risk for illnesses, including obesity, heart disease, peptic ulcers, and asthma. Long-term stress can cause digestive problems and weaken your immune system.

The first step to managing stress is to recognize when you are under stress and find out what triggers it. Look over the symptoms you’ve checked. Keep these symptoms in mind as you go through each day. If you notice one of these symptoms, ask yourself what may have triggered it.

Keeping a stress log can help you recognize when you are under stress and identify what caused it. For a week, keep track of anything, big or small, that triggers feelings of stress. Note the date and time. Also record your response. What were your stress symptoms? By the end of the week, you’ll know your stressors and how you react to them. Once you understand your stress response, you’ll be able to handle stress better.

The symptoms you checked may be indicators of stress. But stress is only one of the possible causes of these symptoms. Talk to your health care provider if you have questions or concerns about your symptoms.

Minimize Stress

You can’t eliminate all the stress in your life, but you can reduce it. Here are some ideas on how to do that:

  • Realize that you can’t control everything. Take responsibility for what you can and learn to let go of those things that are beyond your control. Focus on managing stressful situations and understand that the cause of your stress may never be completely eliminated.
  • Don’t be afraid to say “no.” If additional responsibilities or commitments will make you feel stressed, turn them down. Stand up for yourself; don’t let others’ desires or demands take precedent.
  • Plan ahead for stressful events. If you need to give a speech, for instance, give yourself time to prepare for it.
  • Approach changes in your life as challenges or opportunities instead of threats.
  • Be realistic about goals you set for yourself.
  • Exercise most days of the week. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each day.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Follow a healthy diet.
  • Get involved in hobbies or social events that are pleasurable.
  • Meditate or practice stress-reduction techniques.
  • Practice deep breathing. When you are stressed, you take shallow breaths. This shallow breathing triggers an increase in stress hormones. To calm down, breathe deeply. Deep breathing puts a break on your heart rate, brings down your blood pressure, and boosts the amount of oxygen you take in. Deep breathing also helps you feel in control.

This assessment is not intended to replace the evaluation of a health care professional.

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