Stress can have a wide range of effects on our emotions and our behaviours, and it happens to all of us. Did you know that stress also affects our bodies? According to the American Institute of Stress (AIS), stress has been linked to depression, anxiety, heart attacks, stroke, hypertension and increased susceptibility to infections and viral disorders. Stress can give us hives or rashes, stomach ulcers and cramps, and stop us sleeping at night.
WebMD explains that the symptoms of stress can be categorized into emotional, cognitive, physical and behavioral. Below are ten of the most common symptoms that you can look out for. If any of them apply to you, it's time to make a few changes...
1) Headaches. Everyday Health explains that stress can cause us to clench our jaw and tense the muscles in our face, neck, and shoulders excessively. We usually don't realize that we're doing it, but it causes tension and persistent soreness in the head.
2) Sore stomach. The medical community is beginning to understand more about our gut - it is commonly referred to as our "little brain" because it is so full of nerve endings. In fact, it holds the largest bundle of nerves in our body, outside of the brain. This makes it highly sensitive and reactive to stress, according to Prevention, who cite a study of nearly 2,000 people which showed that those who were highly stressed were more than three times as likely to have stomach pain.
3) Jaw pain. We've already discussed the pain caused by clenching your jaw, but teeth-grinding could be another culprit. Best Health Mag points out that people who are stressed often grind their teeth during sleep without knowing it. This causes a sore jaw and teeth, as well as a headache.
4) Making unhealthy choices. Medicine Net explains that stressed people are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors. This can be excessive consumption of drugs, alcohol or cigarettes, or it can be making poor choices around diet and exercise. Unfortunately, these choices only exacerbate the symptoms of stress, which make it a vicious cycle indeed.
5) Heightened allergies. Studies have shown that allergy sufferers have more symptoms immediately after experiencing anxiety, according to Prevention. It is thought that stress hormones encourage production of a blood protein that causes allergic reactions.
6) Severe period pain. Stress directly affects your hormones, which can cause differences in your menstrual cycle. This can mean more painful and prolonged cramping. Best Health Mag suggest getting plenty of exercise and engaging in activities that you find pleasurable or relaxing to try to reduce the stress hormones.
7) Issues with skin and hair. WebMD explains that stress can cause sudden onset of acne, psoriasis, dandruff, and eczema. Long-term, stress can be a culprit in permanent hair-loss.
8) Loss of libido. American Institute of Stress list this among the most common symptoms of stress. It can be embarrassing to talk about, but stress can be a factor in reduced sexual performance or appetite - and that in itself can be another cause of stress.
9) Feeling overwhelmed. If you feel as though you're losing control of things at work or in your private life, or if you find yourself trying to devise ways of gaining more control, this can be a sign that you are stressed. If left unchecked, these feelings can collapse into anxiety or depression.
10) Trouble sleeping. This can include insomnia, nightmares, sleepwalking, or disturbed sleep, according to Everyday Health. Chronic stress leads to an increase in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and decreases the amount of deep sleep you get. Deep sleep is vital to the regeneration of cells in your body, so without it, your health seriously suffers.
It's normal to experience stress sometimes - in fact, it has been key to our survival as humans. However, if you feel that your stress levels are negatively impacting your life or that you no longer have control over them, consider taking steps to reduce your stress. This might mean making lifestyle changes or seeking professional support.