You’ve probably described yourself as ‘stressed’ on more than one occasion. But what does stress really feel like and how do you know if you’re affected? You might be aware of some of the more common signs of stress, but lots of us are affected by it so much of the time, we don’t even realise we’re struggling. Stress happens when we have more on our plates than we can cope with. It’s usually not just down to one factor, but to multiple pressures, from overload at work to family responsibilities. 

Why you need to know when you’re stressed

The symptoms of stress can be similar to those of anxiety but the key difference is you’ll experience stress symptoms in response to situations that pile on the pressure, whereas anxiety tends to come from within, whatever’s going on in your life. It’s worth remembering short bursts of stress aren’t bad for you – in fact, this kind of stress can give you a bit of motivation and keep you sharp, and shouldn’t affect your wellbeing on a daily basis. But when stress goes on for a long time – for example, due to financial worries, caring responsibilities or relationship difficulties – it can start to affect your wellbeing. That’s why it’s important to be able to spot it. Here are some of the key tell-tale signs you’re under too much pressure. 

Physical signs of stress may include:

  • ‘Butterflies’ in your tummy

  • Digestive symptoms, including cramps, bloating and needing to go to the loo more or less often

  • Headaches

  • Other aches and pains, usually linked to muscle tension

  • A dry mouth

  • Tiredness for no apparent reason

  • Sweating more than usual

  • Sleep problems – either sleeping more heavily and for longer than normal, or struggling to sleep 

  • Low sex drive

  • Feeling as though you’re short of breath

Mental signs of stress may include:

  • Worrying about the past or future

  • Feeling isolated and lonely but not really wanting to see people 

  • Feeling guilty about things you’re not managing to do, such as seeing family or friends

  • Having a constant nagging sense there’s something you need to do

  • Feeling as though you’re always ‘on the go’, with no relief

  • Struggling to concentrate

  • Being irritable – as though you’re on edge all the time

  • Feeling low


Behavioural signs of stress may include:

  • Drinking more alcohol than usual, or smoking more

  • Eating more or less than usual

  • Reaching for junk food 

  • Biting your nails

  • Making lots of mistakes because you’re rushing or not concentrating

  • Forgetting to do things

  • Snapping at people

  • Enjoying your free time less than usual

  • Finding it hard to switch off

  • Struggling to do things you know are beneficial for your wellbeing