Signs of Stress and Stress Reactions

During and after a “critical incident," it is essential that we remain aware of our own response and the responses of others.

Through supportive coworkers, prepared managers, open and strong leadership, readily-available resources, practical coping strategies, and action-focused counseling via the Employee Assistance Program, recovery after a critical incident can be successful. Personal and organizational health can be fully restored.

Please keep in mind the common signs and symptoms that may affect our students, our colleagues, our employees, our leaders, and ourselves. Refer to community and campus resources when you see signs of distress.

Common Signs of Stress and Cumulative Stress Reactions

Typically, individuals will experience a variety of the following normal reactions to what is perceived as a critical incident. Here are some common signs of stress reactions:

Physical*

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Chills
  • Chest pain
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea and other GI symptoms
  • Fainting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rashes/Hives
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Visual difficulties
  • Profuse sweating
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Weakness
  • Thirst
  • Exacerbation of pre-existing medical conditions
  • Tremors (lips and hands)

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

Emotional

  • Guilt
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Apathy
  • Agitation
  • Denial
  • Wanting to hide
  • Panic
  • Depression (thinking and judgment errors, missing things, feeling scattered, memory and concentration issues, and/or sadness)
  • Tearfulness
  • Oversensitivity (frustrated more easily)
  • Inability to focus (or focusing on the micro level when the macro level is needed too)
  • Irritability
  • Feeling vulnerable and/or helpless
  • Anger (may be manifested by scapegoating, resentment, cynicism, violent fantasies, frustration with lack of information)

Behavioral

  • Suspiciousness
  • Excessive silence
  • Inability to rest
  • Excessive humor
  • Increased alcohol consumption
  • Withdrawal or social isolation
  • Antisocial acts
  • Change in interaction with others
  • Change in speech patterns
  • Over-the-counter drug use and misuse
  • Prescription drug use and misuse

Cognitive

  • Easily distracted
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation of person, place, or time
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Difficulty calculating
  • Rumination
  • Intrusive images
  • Flashbacks
  • Blaming
  • Hypervigilance
  • Difficulty with solving problems
  • Distressing dreams

Download this list of stress reactions in PDF format. For additional advice or services, contact the Employee Assistance Program.

Contact Information

Employee Assistance Program

Phone
Fax
319-335-2056
Campus Address
121-50 USB
Mailing Address

121 University Services Building, Suite 50
Iowa City, IA 52242-1911
United States