Seeking signs of stress overload: Symptoms and behaviors.

A number of symptoms and behaviors are said to be indicative of stress, yet there is little empirical evidence to verify which are actually signs of pathogenic stress overload. Moreover, the few relevant studies have methodological limitations. The present study addressed those issues in an attempt to identify the signs most telling of overload. A community sample (n = 408) was drawn from sites purposefully selected to capture general population demographics and a wide spectrum of stress levels. Participants completed the Stress Overload Scale (SOS) and extensive checklists of potential markers (symptoms and behaviors) on site (Wave 1) and a follow-up survey of only the markers one week later at home (Wave 2). Partial correlations showed most individual signs, from both waves, to relate significantly to SOS scores. However, factor analyses showed these signs to cluster, thereby defining marker types: Body complaints (BC), gastrointestinal disturbances (GD), and respiratory problems (RP) for symptoms and moodiness (M), nervous habits (NH), and cognitive disruption (CD) for behaviors. Multivariate multiple regressions showed certain marker types to be consistently indicative of stress overload: CD behaviors covaried with SOS scores at both waves. Other marker types were found to have time windows: Wave 1 GD symptoms and M behaviors and Wave two RP symptoms covaried with the SOS, indicating that some signs might be more immediate and others more delayed indicators of stress overload. The contribution of these findings, suggestions for furthering the search for signs, and implications for the rapid diagnosis of stress overload are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)