“Indeed, stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms can give you a jump on managing them. Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.” – Mayo Clinic
The stress response is a normal physical and psychological reaction to life events. In small doses, stress can actually be a positive thing – it can promote effort and push us to take necessary action.
However, if the demands of daily life exceed one’s ability to cope, our physical and mental health can suffer.
Our brain is hardwired with an “alarm system” to protect us from any perceived threat. Should this system detect a threat, our body instantly releases hormones to deal with it. This is known as the “fight-or-flight response.”
Under normal circumstances, once the threat is neutralized, the brain returns to its natural state. However, for some people – because of constant exposure to (past or present) stress – the transition from heightened awareness to a more relaxed state proves very difficult.
As with most brain functions, our alarm systems are highly individualistic. Thus, how our body interprets signals from this system are different. Psychosomatic symptoms, or symptoms with no known physical cause, are incredibly common. In one study, published in The American Journal of Medicine, 84% of patients reported symptoms in which no known physical cause was found. In other words, 84% experienced pain of a purely psychological nature. (We’ll discuss this a little more, later on.)
Over the long-term, individuals with an overactive stress response can develop chronic illnesses. It is important, then, to recognize the precautionary signs of overstress to avoid long-term health complications.
In this article, we discuss 11 common signs (some with uncommon explanations) that you may be overstressed. Furthermore, we’ll provide some recommendations that may prove helpful in alleviating stress.
11 Signs You May Be Overstressed
1. Headaches or Migraines
Frequent stress causes tension, which can then turn into a headache. The most commonly reported types of stress-related headaches are (unsurprisingly) tension headaches. Tension headache symptoms include:
– dull and persistent pain felt on both sides of the head or neck (migraine-like symptoms)
– a sensation of constant pressure around the head area
– tenderness of the scalp, neck, or shoulder muscles
2. Chest Pain
Pains felt around the chest area may be instigated or aggravated by stress and anxiety. Usually, chest pains associated with stress and anxiety are sharp and intermittent in nature.
Chest pain, like headaches and migraines, is the result of tension and tightening of the body’s muscles.
3. Hair Loss
Hair loss and stress is a hotly debated topic. Science has shown, however, that stress can contribute to conditions that lead to hair loss.
Telogen effluvium is the scattered thinning of the hair along the scalp – and is the most common type of hair loss due to stress. Normally, this hair loss is temporary. However, chronic stress causes this process to repeat.
4. Loss of Libido
Hormonal stability and a healthy state of mind are required for a fulfilling sex life. Too much stress throws off our hormones and affects our mood – often resulting in a low sex drive.
5. Concentration Problems
As mentioned, stress initiates the fight-or-flight response and floods the body with stress hormones (e.g. cortisol). Besides sapping our brain’s energy reserves, an overactive amygdala disrupts the normal activity of the frontal lobe – the area of the brain responsible for attention and concentration.
6. Memory Problems
The stress response also disrupts normal activity within the temporal lobe, which is responsible for memory. In most cases, chronic stress more often impairs short-term memory, making the temporary storage and recall of information difficult.
7. Stomach Problems
Stomach cramping, stomach pain, and intestinal discomfort are often physical signs of stress-related anxieties. Stress apparently has the most noticeable impact in the abdominal region, where tension can exhaust the abdominal muscles in a way that creates aches and pains.
8. Weight Fluctuations
Though stress is linked to fluctuations in weight, chronic stress most often causes weight gain. Acute stress patterns are more strongly associated with the putting on, and loss of weight. The stress hormone cortisol has a significant impact on your level of hunger. According to WebMD, high cortisol levels “[causes] high insulin levels, your blood sugar drops and you crave sugary, fatty foods.”
9. Heart Palpitations
Most heart palpitations, though potentially frightening, are rather harmless. Stress, along with excessive use of alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine, are recognized as catalysts of palpitations (which can also be felt in your chest, neck, or throat.)
10. Joint or Muscle Pain
Aches, pains, tension, tightness and stiffness are all well-known symptoms of stress-related hyperstimulation. Provided the body remains in a stressful state, muscle and joint pain will often surface; usually dissipating as stress levels decrease.
11. Unexplainable physical or mental symptoms
Yes, this last item is broadly vague – and for a reason. Stress is an uber-complicated condition; as are the various disorders and illnesses it produces. The exact number of physical and psychological stress-related symptoms is unknown, though that number is likely to be in the hundreds if not thousands.
The point is this: the odds that a sudden onset of persistent and bothersome mental or physical symptoms being stress-related is high. In any case, it is wise to seek the guidance of a medical professional.
Aside from medical intervention, there are many natural ways of reducing stress. This is commonly known as stress management.
Here are a few recommended stress management techniques:
– Light exercise; a brisk walk, slow jog, or yoga, for example.
– Meditation, or mindful breathing exercises.
– Support from friends or family. Taking with someone your trust may help reduce stress levels.
– Engage in an enjoyable, relaxing activity. Read, listen to music, or play a computer game.
– Make sure you are getting the recommended amount of sleep.