It’s normal to feel stressed occasionally, but it can have dire consequences on your physical health when it becomes too frequent. Studies show that about 77% of people experience stress that affects them physically. Chronic stress puts you at more risk of developing health conditions such as depression and cardiovascular disease. When you are stressed, your adrenal glands release hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones can have a huge impact on every major part of your body, from your brain to muscles. Long-term stress can further deteriorate your body, and you can start to see physical symptoms develop over time. Some people find it easy to recognize stress, while others don’t. Once you are able to identify your stress symptoms, you will be in a position to better manage your stress. If you fall under the latter, here are a few signs to help you know when your stress is affecting your physical health.
Body aches and pains
Stress commonly causes body aches and joint pains. When you are stressed or anxious, it can cause your body’s muscles to contract, which can cause stiffness and pain in the affected part of your body. Stress can also cause a short burst of pain all over your body and lead to intense flare-ups of major conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia.
Chronic stress can also cause a lot of tension, especially in your neck and shoulders, making you experience severe headaches and migraines. If you’ve noticed that you’re experiencing headaches more than usual, lookout for signs that could indicate that it is associated with stress. These signs include intense pressure around your head and eyes, a sharp pain shooting from your neck to your head, and constant dull ache. Stress can shake up the balance of hormones, effectively increasing migraines, especially in women.
If you’ve noticed that you’ve got sudden thin hair or you’re finding more strands of your hair in the shower drain or on the floors of your home, it’s a likely effect of your stress. You might be wondering if there is a correlation between stress and hair loss. Studies show that stress is linked to three major conditions that can cause you to lose your hair.
Telogen effluvium is one of the three conditions responsible for temporary hair loss. This stress forces your hair follicles to rest so they do not produce new strands. Over time, it can cause your hair to fall out even when you touch it. Trichotillomania is the intense feeling of pulling out your hair when stressed. The third condition is alopecia, which occurs when your body’s immune system fights your hair follicles, effectively causing them to fall out. Although there is no direct link between stress and alopecia, there is a link to chronic stress and weakened immune systems.
Whenever you are a little stressed or anxious, it’s normal to have jitters, more commonly known as “having butterflies in your stomach.” These jitters are signs that your brain and your digestive system are related. Therefore, when you are stressed, it can affect your stomach. Unfortunately, when your stress affects your digestive system, it can become a never-ending cycle because the digestive symptoms you experience can also make you more stressed. You can have simple symptoms like stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, and gas, leading to more severe conditions like acid reflux, peptic ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome. In some other cases, it can cause you to lose your appetite and vomit anything you consume.
If you’re experiencing frequent issues with your digestive system, it could be your body’s way of letting you know that you are stressed and need to take a break. However, if your symptoms persist, ensure you set an appointment with your doctor for further treatment.
Stress can affect the quality and duration of sleep you are receiving. It can also impact your physical health. Although most experts recommend getting the required 7-9 hours of sleep, it might not always be possible. However, it shouldn’t be a habit. One of the major causes of stress is constant worrying. When your mind is racing during periods when you should be relaxing, it is difficult for you to shut down and unwind. In effect, your constant worrying can affect your sleep habits and patterns. When you miss out on quality sleep time, it can create a deficit that can exacerbate your physical health problems. The more you deprive yourself of sleep, the more stressed you become.
When your stress causes you to not get enough rest, it can negatively affect your mood and make it difficult to concentrate during the day. It can also lead to more severe conditions like heart disease, depression, obesity, and diabetes. If your stress leads you to use substances as a way to try and sleep it may be time to think about attending a Motivational Interviewing session.
High blood pressure
When stressed, your body produces hormones that can temporarily spike your blood pressure. High blood pressure causes your heart to beat faster than normal and causes your blood vessels to narrow. Medical experts are quite uncertain about whether high blood pressure results from stress. However, how you react to stress can increase your risk of becoming hypertensive, putting you more at risk of developing cardiovascular conditions such as heart attacks and strokes. So, if you are resorting to smoking or binge eating due to stress, you are making yourself more susceptible to these heart conditions.
When your blood pressure is elevated due to stress, it can be alarming and worrying. Your blood pressure will most likely return to normal when your stress subsides. However, if you are still experiencing extreme spikes in your blood pressure due to chronic stress, it can damage your blood vessels and organs in a way that is quite similar to chronic hypertension.
When you are constantly stressed, it can affect your skin. The outer layer of your skin contains important proteins and lipids that keep your skin hydrated. It also protects the other layers of your skin. But when it isn’t functioning as it should be, your skin will become dry and itchy. Studies show that stress can weaken that protection function your outer skin plays and affect your skin’s ability to retain water. Other studies have also found that stress can slow down your skin’s ability to heal itself after an injury.
When stress weakens your immune system, it can cause an imbalance of bacteria on your skin, leading to rashes or redness. Stress worsens some skin conditions, including psoriasis, contact dermatitis, and eczema. It can also cause you to break out in hives or trigger some fever blisters. Furthermore, when stress causes change to the proteins in your skin, it reduces its elasticity. When your skin is less elastic, it can cause wrinkles to form easily. Wrinkles can make you appear older than you seem, especially when you are young.
When you spend your days worrying about work, finances, or your family, it can lead to low libido. When stress affects your sex life, it can worsen your situation by damaging your relationships. Stress affects your libido because your body puts you in a fight or flight response when you are stressed out. When you experience this phenomenon, you will see an increase in your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. Functions that are not critical to your survival, like your sex drive, become nonexistent.
Also, when you are stressed out, your body releases high levels of cortisol and epinephrine, which can decrease your libido. When you’re experiencing stress more frequently, your body uses its sex hormones to meet its increasing demands for cortisol production, effectively decreasing your interest in sex.
If you always have to deal with one illness after the other, stress could be why. Chronic stress can affect your immune system by weakening it and making it more susceptible to infection. Stress also decreases the body’s white blood cells, which help fight off major infections. When your white blood cell count is too low, it puts you at risk of catching a virus, including the common cold and some cold sores.
Extreme stress can also lead to depression and chronic anxiety, which are conditions that lead to severe inflammation. When there are high levels of inflammation, your already weakened immune system will not be able to protect you adequately.
Stress is natural and normal. However, long-term stress can cause physical symptoms that escalate into serious medical conditions. You can’t completely avoid stress, but you can stop it from taking control over your life and body. By adopting some daily strategies like exercising frequently, meditation, speaking to a therapist, eating well, and having a positive outlook on life, you can have total control over your body and prepare you to handle tough situations and challenges better.
However, if you feel overwhelmed, ensure that you seek medical attention. A qualified medical provider can advise you and prescribe medicine to help you cope with the stress. It’s better to handle your stress with a healthy approach.