Psychosomatic stress: causes, effects and treatment

June 26, 2024

In this article, we will explore the complicated relationship between psychosomatics and stress. We will look at the specific psychosomatic symptoms of stress, focussing on the effects it has on mental and physical health. We will decode the different levels of stress and explore how it affects the psyche, leading to emotional dysregulation and cognitive effects, and how it manifests in the body, affecting different organs and body systems.

Imen Besrour

Table of Content

Defining psychosomatics in general

To comprehend the psychosomatic symptoms of stress, it's important to understand the definition of a psychosomatic disorder. Psychosomatic disorders are characterized by the interplay of psychological factors on physical health, where emotional and mental states contribute to bodily symptoms. It includes conditions where stress, emotions, and mental health significantly impact bodily functions, leading to a range of symptoms. Most of the time, these symptoms lack an exact medical explanation. The field of psychosomatic medicine is an interdisciplinary field in medicine, focusing on the influences of behavioral, psychological and social factors on the physiology of an individual. You can learn more about stress in general in our article “Stress: Stress factors, symptoms & what to do about it”

Short-term and long-term differences in psychosomatic stress

In the short term, stress can trigger acute psychosomatic responses, such as anxiety or panic attacks, where immediate physiological changes occur, affecting the heart rate, breathing, and cognitive function. These responses are typically adaptive, preparing the body to respond to perceived threats.

On the other hand, long-term stress results in chronic psychosomatic manifestations, where sustained emotional and mental strain can lead to a dysregulated nervous system. This persistent state of heightened alertness, named hypervigilance, can contribute to digestive issues, cardiovascular problems, and compromised immune function. The long-term impact of chronic stress extends beyond immediate physiological responses, influencing overall health and well-being.

Diving deeper into the effects of stress on the psyche 

So far, we already know that stress can profoundly affect the psyche, creating a cascade of emotional and cognitive challenges. Chronic stress can lead to emotional dysregulation, causing heightened and intensified emotional responses to various stimuli. There is also a significant cognitive impact of stress, leading to decreased cognitive function, impaired decision-making, and difficulty concentrating.

Emotional dysregulation, a key symptom of psychosomatic disorders, is often evident in heightened anxiety levels, irritability, and mood swings. The inability to think clearly and a decrease in cognitive performance are common manifestations of stress, impacting optimal functioning and potential. Studies consistently show the intricate connection between chronic stress and disruptions in emotional and cognitive processes, emphasizing the need for holistic stress management.

A deeper look into the effects of stress on the body 

Stress doesn't merely linger as a thought in the mind; it takes a deep effect on the body, affecting various organs and body systems. For example, the cardiovascular system is affected under constant stress, resulting in an increased risk of heart disease and hypertension. 

In contrast, short-term stress, such as anxiety or panic attacks, can trigger immediate physiological responses, including increased heart rate and rapid breathing.

Long-term stress, leading to a dysregulated nervous system, is associated with a hypervigilant state. This continuous state of alertness can contribute to chronic health issues such as digestive problems, sleep disturbances, and compromised immune function. The nervous system, in this state, is on constant high alert, impacting the digestive system and cardiovascular function.

Studies have consistently shown the interplay between stress and the body, emphasizing the importance of recognizing the physiological manifestations of stress. Whether in the short term, with acute physiological responses like panic attacks, or in the long term, with chronic health implications, stress has a profound impact on overall physical well-being.

A list of possible psychosomatic symptoms 

Understanding psychosomatic symptoms is crucial in recognizing and addressing the impact of stress. Here is a detailed breakdown of psychosomatic symptoms across various systems of the body:

  1. Nervous System:

Psychosomatic Symptoms:

  • Chronic headaches or migraines

  • Tremors or twitches

  • Difficulty concentrating or cognitive impairments

  1. Cardiovascular System:

Psychosomatic Symptoms:

  • Increased heart rate or palpitations

  • Chest pain without apparent cardiac issues

  • Elevated blood pressure due to stress

  1. Respiratory System:

Psychosomatic Symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

  • Hyperventilation during periods of stress or anxiety

  • Frequent sighing or yawning unrelated to physiological needs

  1. Digestive System:

Psychosomatic Symptoms:

  • Unexplained stomach pain or discomfort

  • Changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation

  • Frequent bloating or gas

  1. Endocrine System:

Psychosomatic Symptoms:

  • Disruption in menstrual cycles

  • Chronic fluctuations in energy levels

  • Unexplained weight changes

  • Hormonal dysregulation

  1. Immune System:

Psychosomatic Symptoms:

  • Frequent illnesses due to compromised immune function

  • Delayed wound healing or prolonged recovery

  • Increased susceptibility to infections during periods of stress

  1. Musculoskeletal System:

Psychosomatic Symptoms:

  • Tension or pain in muscles without physical exertion

  • Frequent headaches or migraines

  • Jaw pain or tension related to stress

  1. Integumentary System (Skin):

Psychosomatic Symptoms:

  • Rashes or hives not linked to allergies

  • Excessive sweating or dryness

  • Hair loss without a medical explanation

  1. Reproductive System:

Psychosomatic Symptoms:

  • Sexual dysfunction or changes in libido

  • Irregular menstrual cycles

  • Unexplained fertility issues

Treating your psychosomatic symptoms through somatic therapy

Addressing psychosomatic symptoms involves a holistic approach that involves both mental and physical well-being. Somatic therapies, such as Somatic Experiencing, Sensorimotor therapy, and Somatic Stress Release, have gained prominence in treating psychosomatic symptoms by focusing on the body's role in processing stress and emotions. These therapies aim to release stored tension, promoting a more balanced mind-body connection. 

Stress release techniques, including mindfulness, meditation, and deep-breathing exercises, play a crucial role in mitigating psychosomatic symptoms, providing individuals with practical tools to manage stress in real-time.

Treating your psychosomatic symptoms through talk therapy

Therapy that includes addressing beliefs about stress is essential, acknowledging that societal stigmas may contribute to individuals viewing stress as a weakness. Therapists work to create a safe space for individuals to explore and challenge these beliefs, fostering an understanding that stress is a natural response that can affect anyone. By destigmatizing stress, individuals can openly engage in therapeutic processes, gaining valuable insights into the mind-body connection and developing effective coping strategies. It is vital to recognize that seeking help is a strength, empowering individuals to take charge of their mental and physical well-being.

Treating your psychosomatic symptoms through nervous system regulation

Nervous system regulation is another key aspect of treatment, emphasizing practices that help regulate the autonomic nervous system. Learning about the functionality of your nervous system and following that up with self-regulation practices is a lifelong skillset which will prove to be very beneficial to your mental and physical health. Techniques like biofeedback and progressive muscle relaxation can aid in achieving a physiological balance, reducing the impact of chronic stress on the body. 


As we conclude our exploration of psychosomatic symptoms of stress, the intricate connection between the mind and body becomes apparent. The impact on the psyche, from emotional dysregulation to cognitive impairments, and the toll on the body, affecting organs and body systems, highlights the need for a holistic approach to stress management. Understanding these psychosomatic dynamics empowers individuals to adopt comprehensive strategies that address both the mental and physical aspects of stress, promoting overall well-being.

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