Comments Off on 25 Signs of Stress That Might Surprise You
Everyone has stress. It’s a normal, healthy part of life. If there was no stress, life would be pretty boring, because some pretty awesome things are also stressful… Can you say Wedding? Birth? New endeavors?
The way the body deals with stress is through the fight-or-flight response. Since most of our ancestor’s stressors were physical threats like the proverbial saber-toothed tiger, the stress response modifies your circulation, changes the way your body sends and receives messages in your nervous system, and even alters which areas of your brain are active and inactive so that you can either fight or run as fast as you can in the opposite direction and have the greatest chance of surviving. However, it’s only designed to be in use for somewhere around 15-20 minutes at a time; long enough for you to either fight or to run away.
Today, we have very few stressors that are physical threats. Most of our stressors these days are mental and emotional, and those stressors last a lot longer than 15-20 minutes. And yet our body still behaves as if a saber-toothed tiger is coming after us. It clearly hasn’t kept up with the times. When was the last time that you were only stressed for 20 minutes? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Stress Has Some Detrimental Effects When It Goes On Too Long
I know you’ve heard many of the common signs of stress. They’re in practically every article written on the subject, and you’ve probably experienced many of them yourself:
Weight gain/loss without changing diet or lifestyle
Jaw clenching/teeth grinding
Getting sick easily/lowered immunity
Excessive worrying/anxiety/panic attacks
Memory problems/lack of concentration/difficulty making decisions
Inability to relax
But those are only the tip of the iceberg. There are many other sign of stress, especially being over-stressed, that you may not be aware of. They can even mimic the symptoms of some very serious diseases, yet when you go to the doctor s/he can’t find anything wrong with you. It can be maddening. Even so, NEVER just assume these things are just stress, because left to its own devices stress CAN cause some of the very serious diseases that it also mimics.
So with that caveat (aka CYA statement), stress can cause…
Inability to lose/gain weight no matter what dietary changes you make or how much you exercise. This is because the fight or flight response changes the way our digestive system works. If you stress yourself out by trying even harder to lose or gain weight you’ll likely only make this worse. Your best bet is to get your stress under control first.
Hair loss – The amount of hair loss you experience may or may not cause bald spots, but it will definitely have a major thinning effect.
Ringing in the ears – Tinnitus has many causes; high or prolonged stress, and the changes it creates in our brain and nervous system, is just one of them.
Dizziness – Dizziness and vertigo have many causes: inner ear infection, migraine disease, and calcium crystals. When stress related, it’s due to changes in the nervous system effected by the fight or flight response.
Increased urination – Urination frequency is not only a factor of what and how much you drink – it’s also directly influenced by the amount of blood going through the kidneys. The stress response often increases our circulation so we can either fight or flee our attacker, which means more blood being filtered by the kidneys, which means needing to go more often.
Diarrhea/constipation – The fight or flight response changes the way our digestive system works which can lead to changes in bowel habits.
Nausea – Another symptom caused by the changes that happen to your digestive and or nervous systems when you’re under stress.
Increased belching or flatulence – If you’re ever left wondering what on earth you could’ve eaten that would cause your increased gassiness, it might not be your diet. It could very well be the stress response wreaking havoc on your digestive system.
Acne – Stress won’t cause a new case of acne, but it will cause your current acne to flare up into a major breakout. That’s because the cells that produce sebum, the oily stuff that mixes with dead skin cells to clog your pores, have receptors for stress hormones so when you’re stressed it triggers more sebum production. Oh joy!
Nightmares/disturbing dreams – If our dreams are the brain’s way of “cleaning house” (among other functions), it’s no wonder that we have a higher incidence of bad dreams when we’re highly stressed.
Sleeping all the time/fatigue – Most people are aware that insomnia is a sign of being over-stressed, but some people have the opposite problem… all they want to do is sleep. Any change in sleep habits can be a sign of high stress.
Defensiveness/suspiciousness – Since one part of the stress response is fighting, it makes sense that those parts of your body and mind that you need to defend yourself would be primed for action. Unfortunately, most of our stress these days is mental and/or emotional. It seems that the defensiveness that the stress response evokes in regard to the physical carries over to the mental/emotional as well.
Anger/irritability/moodiness – High and prolonged stress can make us feel as if our lives are totally out of control, and most of us want to feel like we have at least some modicum of control. Depending on your personality, that lack of control can make you moody, irritable, or just plain angry.
Rapid or mumbled speech/stuttering – The communication areas of the brain are affected by stress, therefore the more stressed you are the more difficult it is to communicate. After all, you’re not going to be having a conversation with that saber-toothed tiger; you’re either going to be fighting it or running away as fast as you can so you have no need to be able to enunciate clearly. (It’s hard to mispronounce “Aaaaggghhh!”)
Frequent sighing – Sighing is an expression of frustration and resignation, among other things. It also acts as a physical and mental reset button – as in a sigh of relief.
Impulse buying/gambling – The feel-good hormone dopamine is in short supply when we’re stressed. Most people get a big ole boost of dopamine from gambling and shopping. The degree of that boost will naturally vary by person, which is why one person might just buy a scratch off lottery ticket or new CD (am I dating myself? Maybe that should say music download) and another might blow their savings at the casino or max out their credit cards at the mall.
Depression/reduced self-esteem/decreased self-care/social withdrawal – Most people are aware that high stress levels can cause anxiety, worry, and panic, but it can also cause depression and all of the issues that go along with it.
Restlessness/lack of ability to sit still for even a few minutes – The stress we deal with today usually involves lots and lots of multi-tasking, and almost no downtime. Is it any wonder that at some point the body and mind get so used to this state of perpetual motion that they don’t know what to do with themselves if given a few minutes rest? If this has happened to you, you may feel like superwoman or superman for your über productivity, but ignoring your body’s need for rest until it’s forgotten how to rest will eventually take its toll on your health.
Increased clumsiness/minor accidents – We all have some natural degree of clumsiness, but clumsiness is also a symptom of anxiety. If you have stress-induced anxiety, your clumsiness may be a physical manifestation of it.
Obsessive/Compulsive behavior – This another response to the out of control feeling that comes with high or prolonged stress. Obsessive and compulsive behaviors can be a way to attempt to bring some sense of control back to your life.
Back, neck, or shoulder pain – Part of the stress response involves pulling the shoulders up and forward while turtling the head down into the shoulder in an effort to protect the front of the neck from that saber-toothed tiger. It also involves tightening the muscles in the pelvic region to protect the reproductive organs.
Cravings – Sweets, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, etc. – Since dopamine is in short supply when you’re stressed, your body might crave those things that it knows will give it a hit of the feel good hormone.
Procrastination – When stress has you discombobulated and not able to think straight, it can be difficult to even know where to start with a project so you put it off. That same stress can cause depression and decreased self-esteem which also makes it hard to get motivated to get things done.
Rapid heartbeat/palpitations – Stress and anxiety are both known to cause heart palpitations. The caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol you may be using to get a dopamine hit can also cause your heart to race.
Frequent blushing or sweating – Blushing is caused by activation of the fight of flight response. Among other things, it causes an increase in your blood flow to give you more energy and also causes an increase in sweating to help keep you cool during your fight or your flight from danger.
So once you’ve been to the doctor to rule out serious health concerns, what do you do about these symptoms? Just accept them as part of life and deal with them? I’m gonna answer that with a big, fat NO.
If you have any of these symptoms and they’re stress-related, you need to undertake a practice of serious stress management. You need to learn which stress-relief techniques are effective for you so you can manage the symptoms of stress that you already have, AND you need to find a way to reduce some of the stress in your life so things don’t get worse. It may not seem possible at the moment, but believe me… there’s always something you can do. You may need to hire a stress mentor, a counselor, or both to help you, but there is a way to reduce some of your stress.
I don’t usually go in for New Year’s resolutions, but better managing and decreasing your stress might be something to consider… Especially if you have several of the symptoms on the list.
To get started, try pondering this question: If you could eliminate any stressor from your life right now without any negative repercussions, what would it be?
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