The cliché of the frazzled mom trying to get her kids off to school or the business manager talking calmly on the phone while he pulls his hair – these characterizations may trivialize the real health consequences of being overly stressed. Such images make it seem like stress is an obvious manifestation of some frustration, but it may not be so simple.
Humans often suppress the stress that they feel as a protective mechanism – even when you’re wound up and anxious, you still have to get stuff done. Stress affects the body in a multitude of ways that may not be as obvious as you think.
How to Know When Your Body is Saying Slow Down
Though it may not be as clear on the surface, your body does offer some tale-tell signs to signal that you should slow down. Here are 10 indicators that you are too stressed.
Stress is more than mental. Though normal stressors shouldn’t have too much of an effect, chronic stress will trigger your flight or fight response – which is the brain telling the body: ACT NOW. When your body is constantly being pumped with those flight or fight hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine, it wears your body out, and you are tired more than you should be.
- Weight Gain
Chronic stress boosts hunger because of those fight or flight hormones, which do more than make you tired. People who are stressed out tend to eat more, partly because of body chemistry. Your mind is telling your body that’s you’ve used up a ton of physical energy fighting off a lion or running from a neighboring tribe, which is how it evolved to handle stress – those hormones are a kind of adrenaline that a body needs to survive some physical hurtle.
But our stressors aren’t lions – they are almost always mental anxieties that push us into unhealthy eating habits because after the release of the hormone, the body is looking for quick carbs – comfort foods – to help stabilize what it feels is burnt energy.
- Aches and Pains.
You know how your muscles tense up before you’re about to fall? Now, instead of tensing up just before an injury, imagine that happening all the time. That’s what your body does when you are chronically stressed. Your body is always bracing – tensing all the muscles in your back and shoulders – leading to constant, low-level pain.
- Compromised Immune System.
Some of these symptoms build on each other. If your body is constantly fighting pain, your immune system may be struggling to do what it was made to do – fight off illnesses. Those who are under too much stress are often chronically under the weather. If you are constantly under attack from viruses, it may mean you need to give your body enough down time to recover.
- Teeth Grinding.
Most people grind their teeth now and again. When you do it every day, it can mean you are under too much stress. Technically called bruxism, most people aren’t even aware they are doing it. In fact, it’s often done during sleep. At least one in three people suffer from teeth grinding or gnashing, but some studies report that it’s closer to one in eight.
- Stomach Issues.
Stress can lead to a whole host of stomach problem, some of them build on each other to make the issue worse. When your body releases those stress hormones, your breathing and heart rate increase, upsetting your digestive system. Your body responds with indigestion, heartburn or acid reflux.
Many people joke about stress causing ulcers, but that’s actually something it doesn’t do. Ulcers are caused by a bacterium, but stress can make ulcers more painful.
When you are stressed out, your liver creates excess glucose to boost your energy. The unused glucose, which is actually extra blood sugar, gets reabsorbed. When your body can’t keep up with the glucose surges, you increase your risk type 2 diabetes. Of course, the excessive eating that people do when they are stressed exacerbates this issue.
Diabetes is a complex disease, and, on its own, stress can’t cause diabetes, but when all these factors come together, it can indicate your body is under too much stress to physically keep up.
- Sexual Problems.
The energy it takes to deal with chronic stress takes a toll in every part of your life, including sex. Men get a testosterone boost that increases sex drive in the short term, but chronic stress decreases the overall drive. For women, stress lowers their sex drive, creates irregular menstrual cycles and can increase the symptoms of menopause. The good news here is that sex can actually decrease anxiety and help the body relax in times of stress.
Stress is normal part of life. When you become unable to manage that stress, it can have devastating mental repercussions. It’s kind of like a house of cards: You’re having trouble coping with stress, which puts you in a poor mood. Because you don’t feel great emotionally, your productivity decreases, relationships suffer, you lose sleep and small things seem mountainous – all which could lead to depression.
Headaches caused from stress, called tension headaches, can feel like a vice around your head. The pain from these headaches is generally dull, with pressure around the forehead or near the back of the neck. About 80% of people experience these headaches under stress. Though extremely painful, they can be the first indicator that stress is affecting your physical health.
Manage Stresses for a Healthier Life
There are many ways to manage stress – from breathing exercises to jogging. However you manage your stress, remember that what happens in the mind affects the body, so a healthier mind will naturally make for a healthier body.