Physical symptoms of extreme stress

Updated November 21, 2016

Stress is a killer. When a person is under extreme and unrelenting stress for a long time, it takes its physical and mental toll on the individual. Physical symptoms crop up under when a person is, or has been, stressed beyond his ability to cope.

What Can Happen

Going through any kind of trauma effects your immune system. You may find that you are getting more infections and that pre-existing diseases or health problems are suddenly getting worse. If you aren't coping with your stress in a healthy manner and are, in fact, denying it or repressing it, this can result in impaired immune function as well as cardiovascular problems.

Allostatic Overload explains that our organs have the ability to achieve stability through change by redirecting and expending energy where it needs to go when the body is challenged. This process is called allostasis. However, you can experience allostatic overload if you put your body under too much stress for too long. The organs lose their resilience; that's when a person becomes susceptible to serious illnesses as a result of being overly stressed for too long.

Upsetting Your Body's Balance

Stress upsets your body's balance. It can cause some people to lose large amounts of weight while others pack on the pounds. Your digestive tract can become distressed, resulting in stomach aches, constipation or, conversely, diarrhoea. When you are stressed you secrete large amounts of cortisol, a steroid hormone. If this goes on and on you can end up with adrenal fatigue.


The adrenal glands secrete many essential hormones we need to remain healthy. Cortisol is one of those crucial hormones. However, if your body releases too much cortisol, which happens when you are stressed, this compromises the immune system and puts you at risk for infections and even diseases such an cancer. The adrenal glands are the "glands of stress," yet they are the first gland in your body to fail under prolonged stress. When the adrenal glands become fatigued, you may experience allergies, depression, lack of energy, loss of muscle strength, lightheadedness, midday sleepiness, food cravings and a variety of other symptoms.

Your Skin

Stress is going to put wrinkles on your face and take the sparkle out of your eyes. Dark circles and bags can develop under your eyes and your skin may become sallow. Cortisol causes dark under-eye circles because the increase in cortisol production causes swelling, explains Informed

What the Mayo Clinic Says

Stress can lead to heart disease, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic, as well as chest pain, headaches, fatigue, muscle pain and tension and sleep problems.

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About the Author

Cindi Pearce is a graduate of Ohio University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in journalism. She completed both the undergraduate and graduate courses offered by the Institute of Children’s Literature. Pearce has been writing professionally for over 30 years.