Emotional Stress: Signs, Symptoms & Coping Tips

Published on: 24 Aug 2022
Clinically Reviewed by Bisma Anwar, LMHC
stressed out woman sitting on couch

Everyone experiences stress from time to time. It’s impossible to go through your entire life without having to navigate at least some stressful events. Believe it or not, our bodies are actually designed to react to stressors. This explains why stress has both physical and mental symptoms. Although the different types of stress are usually temporary, they can have a significant impact on your day-to-day life.

What is emotional stress? According to the American Psychological Association (APA), it’s a type of stress that causes an intense and negative stress response when someone experiences emotions like worry, fear, frustration, danger, or sadness. If left untreated with stress therapy, emotional stress can be unhealthy, making it difficult for you to relax, maintain healthy relationships, and carry out everyday tasks.

Signs of Emotional Stress

As noted, there are both mental and physical symptoms of emotional stress. Emotional stress examples can include some or all of the following. 

Feeling overwhelmed

When you’re constantly experiencing symptoms of stress, life can feel overwhelming. Emotional stress can leave you feeling jumpy or on edge. It may cause you to overreact when things don’t go as planned. It can make it difficult for you to organize your thoughts or find solutions to problems.

Difficulty concentrating

Stress can be distracting and is known to interfere with concentration. When you’re stressed, you might find your mind wandering to your worries every time you try to focus on a task. It can be difficult to pay attention to what people are saying and what’s happening around you.

Anxiety and depression

Research shows that depression and anxiety are both common in people who experience a higher stress level. Emotional stress can cause you to have intense, disruptive, and continuous feelings of dread, fear, and sadness. These feelings can compound your stress, making symptoms worse.

Mood swings

Stress is uncomfortable. Research suggests that stress has a direct impact on mood. It can cause your mood to change in an instant. In one moment, you might be enjoying yourself, and the next you could experience extreme feelings of sadness, dread, or other emotions. 


Some research has found that people who have long term stress are more likely to suffer from chronic headaches. In many cases, a stressor directly precedes and triggers a headache. That same research also suggests that emotional stress can increase the risk of both migraine and tension headaches.

Weight loss or weight gain

Stress can have a direct impact on eating habits. Some people turn to high-calorie, high-fat foods when stressed, while others may not eat at all. Over time, emotional stress can cause you to lose or gain a noticeable amount of weight, often in a short period of time. An abundance of research has linked stress to weight gain. 

Causes of Emotional Stress

Some stressors, like a traffic jam or a neighbor playing loud music, are only temporary. Emotional stress, however, is usually caused by an ongoing situation, such as: 

  • Toxic, unhealthy, or abusive relationships
  • Work
  • Financial issues
  • Unresolved emotional pain or trauma
  • Parenting 
  • Loss and grief
  • Mental health conditions
  • A medical diagnosis or a health problem

People who experience emotional stress may feel as though they’re trapped in their stressful situation, which can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms.

While removing yourself from a stressful environment can be one way to reduce your stress level, we realize that’s not always possible. The best way to deal with emotional stress is to learn how to change your responses to situations. Have you been struggling with symptoms of stress? An effective solution can be to identify emotional stress examples in your life and work to develop healthier coping mechanisms and stress management techniques.

6 Tips for Coping with Emotional Stress

Often, stressful times will improve or pass altogether. You might get out of a relationship, quit a job, make amends with a friend, or otherwise find peace in your life. 

When it doesn’t resolve though, it’s important to develop healthy coping skills so you can navigate stress before it takes a firm hold on your emotional well-being. The following 6 tips are expert-approved ways to effectively cope with emotional stress. 

“Since emotional stress can impact physical and mental health, it’s crucial to pay attention to the signs of emotional stress in your day-to-day life before it becomes overwhelming. Taking care of yourself when the stress level is lower helps to build strategies to manage emotional stressors over time.”

Talkspace therapist Jill Daino, LCSW-R, BC-TMH

1. Work with a therapist

If emotional stress is causing you significant distress or making it difficult for you to handle everyday tasks, it may be time to seek professional help. A therapist can work with you to reduce symptoms of emotional stress and find healthy coping mechanisms. Therapy can also help you to identify the source of your stress and understand how it’s impacting your life.

“Having a variety of tools in your toolbox is key to managing emotional stress so that you can use different strategies as needed. Simple breathing exercises, talking with a trusted friend, taking a walk, journaling, watching a favorite tv show, or listening to music are all easily accessible options to incorporate into stress management. It’s also important to remember that talking to a licensed mental health professional can be incredibly helpful. You do not have to struggle on your own when things get overwhelming.”

Talkspace therapist Jill Daino, LCSW-R, BC-TMH

2. Find distractions

When you’re feeling stressed about something, it can be easy to begin to fixate on your worries. Unfortunately, this can have a snowball effect, making your worry and anxiety more intense. Instead of ruminating on stress, try to find a distraction. Exercising, watching a movie, or spending time with friends are all great ways to help you to take your focus off of your stress, ultimately relieving your symptoms.

3. Set aside time for relaxation

Relaxation is essential for a healthy mind, body, and spirit. You should try to make time to relax each day. During this time of self care, you could take a nap, get some much-needed alone time, write about your feelings in a journal, or even take a bubble bath. Even setting aside just 5 or 10 minutes for relaxation each day can have a big impact on your emotional well-being.

4. Practice stress reduction

Try to introduce stress reduction techniques into your life, such as mindfulness meditation or yoga. These relaxation techniques can balance out some of the toxic stress you’re feeling. Can’t seem to find the time to put this into practice? It might be time for a mental health day. Even if you can’t completely eliminate stress in your life, you can change how you react to it. Taking purposeful steps to reduce how you let your emotional distress and stress impact you is a good first step.

5. Improve your sleep habits

When you don’t get enough sleep, it can be harder for your body to be successful in managing stress, according to some studies. Work to improve your sleep habits so that you can get the rest you need each night. Create an evening routine and try to go to bed at the same time each night.

6. Identify unhealthy coping mechanisms

Many coping mechanisms that people use to reduce stress symptoms can be damaging. If you’re relying on caffeine, alcohol, or unhealthy foods to get you through the day, these substances may actually be making your stress worse. Once you identify these unhealthy coping mechanisms, you can work to replace your old habits with newer, healthier ones.

Work Through Your Emotions with Talkspace

What is emotional stress? Emotional stress is the response we have to sometimes ongoing chronic stress. It can affect your mental and physical well-being and cause intense psychological and physical symptoms that interfere in your personal and professional relationships, your ability to work, and your capability to live up to your responsibilities.

There’s nothing wrong with experiencing stress or having an emotional response to that stressor. However, it’s important to find ways to work through your emotions and manage the stress in your life. If you’ve been struggling with emotional stress, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional so that you can get the help that you need.

Talkspace is an online therapy platform that’s changing people’s perception of mental health. If you’re struggling and feeling stressed, learn more about how Talkspace can help. Our licensed caring, experienced therapists understand emotional stress. What’s more, they know how to address it.  


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6. Choi D, Chun S, Lee S, Han K, Park E. Association between Sleep Duration and Perceived Stress: Salaried Worker in Circumstances of High Workload. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(4):796. doi:10.3390/ijerph15040796. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5923838/. Accessed June 29, 2022.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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