Assessing your signs and symptoms

Before we describe the physical, mental and behavioural signs and symptoms of distress, you can assess some of your own signs and symptoms by completing the questionnaire on page 62. For this questionnaire we have selected some of the more usually manifested signs and symptoms.

The ability to recognize and monitor the signs and symptoms of your stress response activity is a crucial skill in managing stress. Select the three highest scoring items and write these in the box on page 103. This will help remind you what to look for as you monitor your body’s physical activity and your behaviour.

The brief questionnaire you have just completed does not address all the signs and symptoms, so we give a more comprehensive list below. Study the list so you are aware of the range of the signs and symptoms of distress.

Signs of distress


Aware of heart beating, palpitations

Breathlessness, lump in the throat, rapid shallow breathing

Dry mouth, butterflies’ in stomach, indigestion, nausea

Diarrhoea, constipation, flatulence

General muscle tenseness particularly of the jaws, grinding of teeth

Clenched fists, hunched shoulders, general muscle aches and pains, cramps

Restlessness, hyperactive, nail biting, finger drumming, foot tapping, hands shaking

Tired, fatigued, lethargic, exhausted, sleep difficulties, feeling faint, headaches, frequent illnesses such as colds

Sweaty especially palms and upper lip, hot flushed feeling

Cold hands and feet

Frequent desire to urinate

Overeating, loss of appetite, increase cigarette smoking

Increased alcohol consumption, loss of interest in sex


Distressed, worried, upset, tearful, deflated, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, hysterical, withdrawn, feeling unable to cope, anxious, depressed

Impatient, easily irritated and aggravated, angry, hostile, aggressive

Frustrated, bored, inadequate, guilty, rejected, neglected, insecure, vulnerable

Loss of interest in self-appearance, health, diet, sex; low self-esteem, and loss of interest in others

Polyphasic (doing too many things at once), rushed

Failing to finish tasks before moving onto the next

Difficulty in thinking clearly, concentrating and making decisions, forgetful, lack of creativity, irrational; procrastinating, difficulty in starting to do things

Prone to make mistakes and having accidents

Having so much to do and not knowing where to start so ending up doing nothing or going from task to task and not completing anything

Hypercritical, inflexible, unreasonable, over-reactive, nonproductive, poor efficiency

You should note that this list is not exhaustive and some of the mental signs could be regarded as physical signs and vice-versa.

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