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Recognising the signs and symptoms of stress

Understand how stress can affect different people and groups and find out what to do if you or your colleagues are suffering from stress.

Signs of stress in individuals

People react to stress in different ways. Some people will experience physical discomfort or pain; others will display signs of emotional or mental distress. Symptoms may also come in the form of behavioural changes.

If you or a colleague are suffering from some of the following symptoms, this may be indicative that you (or your colleague) are suffering from stress.

Emotional symptoms

  • anxiety
  • negative or depressive feeling
  • disappointment with yourself
  • increased emotional reactions − more tearful, sensitive or aggressive
  • loneliness, withdrawn
  • loss of motivation commitment and confidence
  • mood swings (not behavioural)

Mental symptoms

  • confusion, indecision
  • unable to concentrate
  • poor memory

Changes from normal behaviour

  • changes in eating habits
  • increased smoking, drinking or drug taking 'to cope'
  • mood swings affecting your behaviour
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • twitchy, nervous behaviour
  • changes in attendance − such as arriving later or taking more time off

Physical symptoms

  • shallow breathing or hyperventilating ('panic attacks')
  • chest pains
  • high blood pressure
  • blurred eyesight or sore eyes
  • sleep disturbance (problems getting to sleep, staying asleep or having nightmares)
  • tired all the time
  • sexual problems, such as loss of libido
  • grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw
  • headaches
  • sweating, reddening or blushing
  • eczema or psoriasis
  • indigestion or heartburn
  • constipation or diarrhoea or Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • feeling sick, dizzy or fainting

While the described symptoms are indicators of stress, it needs to be remembered that they may also be indicative of other health conditions. If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, we strongly recommend you to seek advice from your GP.

Signs of stress in groups

Sometimes, when groups of people are exposed to stressors they may collectively show signs and symptoms of stress. These include:

  • disputes and disaffection within the group
  • increase in staff turnover
  • increase in complaints and grievances
  • increased sickness absence
  • increased reports of stress
  • difficulty in attracting new staff
  • poor performance
  • customer dissatisfaction or complaints

Support for employees showing signs of stress

If you are experiencing difficulties at work, we'd advise you to discuss any issues with your line manager. If this is not possible for whatever reason, you can contact your nominated HR Business Partner or HR Advisor for advice.

If you are a colleague or line manager of someone who you think requires support then please contact your nominated HR Business Partner or HR Advisor for advice.

You can find detailed information on the University's individual stress risk assessment process in our guide on supporting employees with work-related stress.

You can also access the University's staff counselling services for support to manage your stress levels.


If you have any questions, please contact us.

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