Stress overload can happen to anyone; however, many people under pressure don’t recognize the signs and symptoms. So, they carry on until their bodies collapse. Only then do they empty their schedules and see a doctor so that they can discover the cause of their bad health.
Therefore, it’s much better to learn the early signs and symptoms of stress so that you can take care of your health and ensure the wellness of your body and mind.
Understanding Stress and The Stress Response
According to the American Psychological Association, stress is defined as “the physiological or psychological response to internal or external stressors”.
This response is carried out mainly by the three stress hormones; cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. These hormones course through your bloodstream and cause mind-body changes whose aim is to combat and resist the source of stress.
The body will then need to recover as such changes take a toll on it. If it’s not given a chance to heal due to consecutive or insistent stressful stimuli -aka chronic stress- your emotional and physical health will be compromised, and so will your quality of life.
Ways Your Body Is Telling You You’re Stressed
Our bodies send us a cry for help when we’re stressed and dealing with burnout and anxiety. They warn us by exhibiting signs and symptoms that reflect the state of both our physical and mental health. Here are the top 10 examples of these signs and symptoms:
1. Muscle Tension
From random body aches and headaches to shoulder and neck pains, the stress response of your muscular system is quite evident. A set of muscles referred to as the tension triangle – having the shoulders as a base with the forehead at its apex- actively reacts to stress and anxiety.
When we’re feeling stressed, we tend to unconsciously furrow our brow, tense our neck, raise our shoulders, and grind our teeth. This will cause a strain on the involved muscles, which consequently leads to pain and throbbing in these areas.
The resulting headaches and muscular pains can last anywhere from half an hour to several hours, differing from one person to another.
2. Skin and Hair Changes
Stress can affect and can do quite a number on your appearance, adversely affecting your skin, hair, and nail conditions.
It can cause the flare-up of undesirable skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, flushing, hives, and rashes. Acne is another skin condition that appears more frequently and becomes more severe with stress.
This is due to the effect of the primary stress hormone, cortisol. This hormone makes your sebaceous glands produce more sebum and oils, which leads to clogged pores and eventual breakouts.
As for your hair, you’ll notice losing hair strands when brushing it or taking a shower. You may even detect bald patches or an overall decrease in your hair density. That is because stress causes your hair follicles to become inactive, thus unable to produce new strands of hair.
3. Disturbed Body Functions
All your body systems are involved in the stress response and will consequently suffer from constant and chronic stress.
Your digestive system takes a hit when you’re stressed. You could develop various symptoms such as stomach knot, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and even stomach ulcers in extreme cases.
You’ll also feel the effects of stress on your cardiovascular system, where you’ll develop high blood pressure and an increased heart rate. You may also feel a tightness/pain in your chest.
And, if your heart remains under stress for a long time, then developing a cardiovascular disease like a heart attack disease becomes possible.
Under severe stress, you can even have a panic attack marked by excessive sweating and irregular breathing that feels as if you’re unable to catch your breath.
4. Impaired Immunity and Healing
When your stress levels go up, your immunity goes down or sometimes even sideways. You’ll find yourself easily getting sick as your immune system becomes inhibited and unable to fight off microbes. Your symptoms will also be more severe and last longer than usual, and simple injuries don’t seem to heal.
And if you continue being chronically stressed, the immune system may go haywire, causing autoimmune diseases like IBS, allergies, Crohn’s disease, and cystic acne.
5. Oral and Dental Pain
Stress can lead to several oral manifestations, including dental pain and jaw soreness. This is due to the grinding of teeth which happens inadvertently in both your waking and sleeping. Such constant clenching strains the jaw muscles and wears away the teeth, leading to tooth pain and sensitivity.
Cold sores and aphthous ulcers are also stress symptoms that may emerge and result in extreme pain and discomfort. They generally go away on their own in about two weeks; however, they can recur if you become exposed to another stressful event.
6. Fatigue and Inability to Sleep
Stress takes a toll on your body and mind when you’re constantly in a ready-for-action state. However, when you try to recuperate with a good night’s sleep, your brain becomes wide awake and won’t shut off.
You find yourself thinking over and over about your stressor and how to put an end to it. So, you can’t rest and eventually become even more tired, until your body shuts down.
This inability to sleep can be attributed to the disturbance of cortisol concentrations in chronic stress. Cortisol levels are tied to both the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, which regulate the sleeping mechanism. Thus, when cortisol levels change due to stress, your sleep also gets affected.
7. Changes in Eating Habits
Different people have different coping mechanisms and deal with stress in different ways. Some people eat little to no food due to being distracted or from the gastrointestinal effects of stress.
On the other hand, some people eat more sugary and fatty foods as a way to distract themselves. This is known as stress eating, and many people experience it.
In both cases, you can experience short term weight changes that are reversed once you destress. However, if unhealthy eating habits persist under chronic stress, health problems such as anemia or diabetes can occur.
8. Social Isolation
Stress, especially that emanating from social interactions, can make a person want to be isolated, which, when coupled with other factors like increased irritability and loss of sex drive, can badly damage or end your relationship with a loved one.
Hiding from your problems can seem like a good idea, yet a lack of interaction with people is detrimental to health. That is because you need to talk and interact with loved ones to maintain your emotional and mental health. Otherwise, anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses become very real threats.
9. Difficulty in Concentration
Stress hormones, sleep loss, and pain all affect your nervous system and can inhibit your cognitive functions. These functions include things like learning, memorizing, planning, contemplating, paying attention, and making decisions.
Then, you’ll find yourself fumbling your words, having memory problems, and unable to decide on things or form a coherent idea. Consequently, you’ll feel embarrassed and inadequate, leading to the accumulation of even more stress.
10. Mood Swings and Unstable Emotions
You can develop mental health problems under the influence of acute and chronic stress. Sporadic stressful events make your nerves extra sensitive to stimuli which results in you being moody and easily irritable.
In chronic stress, the cumulative effects of hormones and missed sleep make nerves and neurons unable to communicate well with each other and cause a decrease in your brain’s grey matter.
Grey matter is partially responsible for regulating your emotions, causing you to find your mood going all over the place. You become excessively bad-tempered, anxious and can even have panic attacks.
Another stress symptom is suddenly crying for no apparent reason. Researchers discovered that this is a stress response aimed at relieving stress by releasing excess stress hormones in tears.
How to Lower Your Stress?
If you’ve discovered one or several of the signs mentioned above, then you’re due for a break.
Several things can and may reduce stress, such as yoga, CBD, meditation, physical exercise, and taking a vacation. Deep sleep and a healthy diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids also work wonders.
And if you feel as if the situation is beyond your capabilities, then there’s no shame in asking for help from a counselor or a doctor. Their mission in life is to guide and support you in your time of need as well as raise your self-esteem and ensure your well-being.
Life can get hard at times due to certain situations, experiences, and life events. Overwhelming responsibilities, demands, and pressures could incapacitate you or a loved one out of the blue.
Not all people have the energy, resilience, and strength needed to overcome these situations and still remain in one piece. So, it’s important to pay attention to the early stress symptoms so that you can slow down, seek treatment, and allow your body and mind to heal.