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 body and mental health can suffer.
Our brain is hardwired with an “alarm system” to protect us from any perceived threat. So should this system detect a threat, our body instantly releases hormones to deal with it. This is the “fight-or-flight response.”
Under normal circumstances, the brain returns to its natural state after neutralizing the threat. However, because of constant exposure to (past or present) stress, the transition from heightened awareness to a more relaxed state proves very difficult for some people.
Your Body and Brain’s Connection
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 widespread. In one study published in The American Journal of Medicine, 84% of patients reported symptoms without known physical cause. In other words, 84% experienced pain of a purely psychological nature. (We’ll discuss this a little more, later on.)
So over the long-term, individuals with an overactive stress response can develop chronic illnesses. Thus, it is essential to recognize the precautionary signs of overstress to avoid long-term health complications.
This article discusses eleven common signs (some with uncommon explanations) that you may be overstressed. Furthermore, we’ll provide some recommendations that may prove helpful in alleviating stress.
“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
11 Signs Your Body 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 the following signs:
- A dull and persistent pain felt on both sides of the head or neck (migraine-like symptoms)
- The sensation of constant pressure around the head area
- Tenderness of the scalp, neck, body, 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.
Chest pain, like headaches and migraines, results from tension and tightening of the body’s muscles.
3. Hair Loss
Hair loss and stress is a hotly debated topic. However, science shows 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. As a result, excessive stress throws off our hormones, affects our mood, and lowers our 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 frontal lobe’s normal activity–the brain area 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 fact, 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. Additionally, stress has the most noticeable impact on the abdominal region. That’s because tension can exhaust the abdominal muscles in a way that creates aches and pains.
8. Weight Fluctuations
Though stress connects 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 relatively 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 good reason. Stress is an uber-complicated condition. So are the various disorders and illnesses it produces. The exact number of physical and psychological stress-related symptoms is unknown. However, that number is likely in the hundreds, if not thousands.
You face high odds that a sudden onset of persistent and bothersome mental or physical symptoms from stress. In any case, it is wise to seek the guidance of a medical professional.
Stress-Management Techniques to Heal Your Body and Mind
Besides medical intervention, you can choose from many natural ways to deal with stress. Therefore, we will share a few recommended stress management techniques:
- Light exercise; a brisk walk, slow jog, or yoga.
- Try meditation or mindful breathing exercises.
- Support from friends or family. In fact, talking with someone your trust may help reduce stress levels.
- Engage in an enjoyable, relaxing activity. So read, listen to music, or play a computer game.
- Make sure you are getting the recommended amount of sleep.