The Physical and Mental Signs Of Stress and How To Manage It

It might be assumed that feeling stressed is a sure fire way to know you that you are stressed. However, did you know that often times people receive ‘silent’ signals that can show you’re stressed, as well as physical? We known that stress is inherently a part of life and that people’s experience of stress is different but what matters most is how you handle it. Psychologist Breanna Jayne Sada from lysn explains how stress can really be affecting you, maybe in ways you didn’t even know, both physically and mentally, along with ways you can manage your stress levels.

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Stress can kill brain cells

Sounds pretty scary right? Stress releases cortisol, a steroid hormone that when under control is an essential hormone to human functioning but when in excess, it can take a toll on your brain (not to mention the other psychical health problems such as weight gain, digestive problems and heart disease). Cortisol creates a surplus of a neurotransmitter glutamate which creates free radicals that actually attack and break down cells, much like water on metal can make it rust over time.

Memory can suffer

Under chronic stress, stem cells in the brain become oligodendrocytes, which coat neurons in a material called myelin. The excess of myelin affects the balance of communication and timing within the brain, which then alters how neurons connect with each other. The results can affect cognitive function, including memory loss, forgetfulness, confusion and concentration problems.

Stress can make you more emotional

Similar to the way that stress can cause your memory to suffer, it can also make you more emotional. Psychologist Breanna Jayne Sada says that when you are stressed, electrical signals are released in the brain weaken which can cause you to become hostile, depressed, frustrated, angry, aggressive, irritable and the list goes on. Some people experience personality changes in response to stress hormones and this varies dependent on the person and the level of stress they’re enduring.

Stress stalls the production of new brain cells

There is a protein in the brain that is integral to keeping existing brain cells healthy and encouraging new brain cell formation. Known as Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor, it can offset negative effects of stress on the brain, but unfortunately the production of Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor is stalled by cortisol, which results in fewer new brain cells being formed.


Muscle tension

Numerous studies have shown that stress can cause muscle tension, which is almost a reflex action to stress. With an onset of stress, muscles can tense up straight away, however the tension will usually be released once the stress has past. When muscles are tense for a long period of time, this can trigger other reactions throughout the body such as headaches and migraines.

Stomach and digestion

Stress can also cause problems in the stomach, particularly affecting the digestive system through bowel movements (diarrhoea or constipation). Stress can also cause an onset of nausea which can make you feel ill in the stomach, as well as impact how fast food moves through your system. Additionally, stress over a long period of time can cause stomach ulcers. 

Migraines on the weekend

Surprisingly enough, a sudden drop in stress levels can actually bring on migraines. So if you’re feeling stressed Monday to Friday then switching off on the weekend, this can sometimes bring on a headache! To minimise, try to stick to a similar sleeping and eating habit on the weekend, the same as you do throughout the week.

Bad period pains

Harvard study found that women who are more stressed out were twice as likely to experience painful menstrual cramps compared to those who were more relaxed. Research has shown that doing some exercise can help reduce the pains by decreasing sympathetic nervous system activity.

Acne or pimples

Stress can cause inflammation which can cause acne or pimples in adults. Scientists don’t yet know how exactly stress worsens acne however they do know that cells that produce sebum have receptors for stress hormones. Sebum is the oily substance on your skin that can mix with bacteria and dead skin cells, clogging pores and causing pimples.


Positive Thinking

The way you view a stressful event can be extremely important, so Psychologist Breanna Jayne Sada suggests to practice positive thinking to build your resilience to stress. By focussing on all the positive aspects of life, you’re more likely to forget about the stressful scenarios (at least for a while). If you catch yourself using unhelpful thinking styles like catastrophising, trying to predict the future or trying to read peoples mind try and replace such thinking with logical, realistic and factual thoughts that are more helpful and motivating. A good filter to use is “would I say this thought to my best friend?” If the answer is no you shouldn’t apply it to you.

Write it Down

Writing down what you’re stressed about can help ease some of the tension and make you feel less overwhelmed. Additionally, Psychologist Breanna Jayne Sada from lysn suggests that writing down what you’re grateful about can help relieve stress because you focus your thoughts on the positive areas of your life. Even just finishing the ay with noting 3 things your grateful for or something that made you smile can shift your focus.

Mindfulness Meditation

It may sound slightly alternative or hippy, but practicing mindfulness meditation can allow you to outline the causes of stress and develop a greater awareness. This can then allow you to react differently when stress occurs or simply notice that you’re becoming stressed and do things to ease the onset. You don’t have to go to yoga or a temple to learn mindful meditation there are some great apps that can help you!

Reduce Muscle Tension

By adopting muscle relaxation techniques, you can allow your body to relax, and then in turn, allow your mind to relax. There are various ways you can reduce muscle tension, and one common practice is through yoga or pilates. Many people forget to check there health insurance check to see if massage in in your cover and book in a regular appointment! Make it part of your regular self care routine.


We’ve heard it all before but exercise is one of the most important things you can do to combat stress. Exercise not only lowers the body’s stress hormones in the long run, but it releases endorphins which improve your mood and act as natural pain killers. Whilst it might sound counter intuitive to put stress on your body to ease your mind, those feel good hormones can work wonders! Exercise doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym for a spin class, a 30 minute walk with a friend or you dog is enough to start getting those feel good hormones, soon you’ll be addicted.


It’s hard to feel stressed when you laugh! Psychologist Breanna Jayne Sada suggests that not only is laughing a great mental relief, it actually relieves tension by relaxing your body and brings more oxygen into your body and organs.


Stress makes your heart beat faster, your breathing quicker and causes your blood vessels to constrict. So simply by taking your time to practice deep breathing, you can help relax and slow your heart rate down. Again there is great app to help you get started, Reach Out’s Breathe app will help you control your breathing and your heart rate overall calming down your body and reducing some of the harmful effects stress brings you.


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