Stress: Signs and Symptoms

Stress: Signs and Symptoms

It is quite normal for people to experience emotional aftershocks when they have passed through a horrible event. Sometimes the aftershocks appear immediately after a traumatic event and sometimes hours or even days later. The signs and symptoms of a stress reaction may last a few days, a few weeks or a few months or longer depending on the severity of the event. The following are some common signs and signals of a stress reaction.

* Any of these symptoms may indicate the need for medical evaluation. When in doubt, contact a physician.


Common Signs and Signals of a Stress Reaction
Physical * Cognitive Emotional Behavioral
Chills Confusion Fear Withdrawal
Thirst Nightmares Guilt Antisocial acts
Fatigue Uncertainty Grief Inability to rest
Fainting Suspiciousness Denial Erratic movements
Twitches Intrusive images Anxiety Change in social activity
Vomiting Blaming someone Agitation Change in speech patterns
Dizziness Poor problem solving Irritability Loss or increase of appetite
Weakness Poor abstract thinking Depression Hyper-alert to environment
Chest pain Poor attention/decision Intense anger Increased alcohol consumption
Headaches Poor concentration/memory Apprehension Change in usual communications
Elevated BP Disorientation of time, place or person Emotional shock  
Rapid heart rate Difficulty identifying objects or people Emotional outbursts  
Muscle tremors Heightened or lowered alertness Feeling overwhelmed  
Shock symptoms Increased or decreased awareness of surroundings Loss of emotional control  
Grinding of teeth   Inappropriate emotional response  
Visual difficulties      
Profuse sweating      
Difficulty breathing      


Things to Try

  • Within the first 24-28 hours periods of appropriate physical exercise, alternated with relaxation will alleviate some of the physical reactions.
  • Structure your time - keep busy.
  • You're normal and having normal reactions - don't label yourself crazy.
  • Talk to people - talk is the most healing medicine.
  • Be aware of numbing the pain with overuse of drugs or alcohol, you don't need to complicate this with a substance abuse problem.
  • Reach out - people do care
  • Maintain as normal a schedule as possible.
  • Spend time with others.
  • Help your co-workers as much as possible by sharing feelings and checking out how they are doing.
  • Give yourself permission to feel rotten and share your feelings with others.
  • Keep a journal, write your way through those sleepless hours.
  • Do things that feel good to you.
  • Realize those around you are under stress.
  • Don't make any big life changes.
  • Do make as many daily decisions as possible, which will give you a feeling of control over your life, i.e., if someone asks you what you want to eat - answer them even if you're not sure.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Reoccurring thought, dreams or flashbacks are normal - don't try to fight them - they'll decrease over time and become less painful.
  • Eat well-balanced and regular meals (even if you don't feel like it).

For Family Members and Friends

  • Listen carefully.
  • Spend time with the traumatized person.
  • Offer your assistance and a listening ear if they have not asked for help.
  • Reassure them that they are safe.
  • Help them with everyday tasks like cleaning, cooking, caring for the family, minding children.
  • Give them some private time.
  • Don't take their anger or other feelings personally.
  • Don't tell them that they are "lucky it wasn't worse" - traumatized people are not consoled by those statements. Instead, tell them that you are sorry such an event has occurred and you want to understand and assist them.

Some information on this page was used reproduced with full permission of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc.

© International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc. 1998 All Rights Reserved