6 Symptoms of Stress You Need to Take Seriously

Being mindful of your body can help you know when to step back and reduce your stress.
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Being mindful of your body can help you know when to step back and reduce your stress.

Stress is a tricky thing. It can stem from work, school, and family life—just to name a few. At healthy levels, stress can motivate us to get things done. But in a culture fueled by high expectations and multitasking lifestyles, it’s easy for stress to build up. It can impact our health far beyond our thoughts.

In America, extreme stress is a prevalent issue. A report by the American Psychological Association, “Stress in America,” shares that only 27 percent of adults feel like their stress has decreased in the past five years. Furthermore, women report higher levels of stress than men. And because chronic stress can have a serious detrimental impact on our long-term health, it’s certainly worth taking seriously.

Recognizing the signs of stress might seem like a no-brainer, but many of these symptoms can develop while we’re distracted with the daily grind. Being mindful of these signs can help you take a step back and improve the way you cope with stress.

01. You’re constantly on edge.

A tense situation can summon a cocktail of uneasy feelings. Panic, anxiety, worry—you know the drill. But when your stress is at an all-time high, you’re likely to experience these feelings on the regular.

Stress jumpstarts the “fight or flight” response, manifesting through rapid heartbeats and tightened muscles. This is your body’s way of protecting itself from its perception of an emergency. The APA describes this as a state of nervous energy, embodied by increased irritability and decreased patience.

If stress has taken over, there’s a good chance that these feelings describe your everyday mood. Take a minute to reflect on those mental stressors you may have without even realizing it. Keep in mind that your irritability may be mistaken for hostility by co-workers, friends, and family.

02. Your eating habits have changed.

From hormone-induced appetites to conscious choices, it’s no surprise that a worrisome brain can impact our eating habits. A study in Physiological Behavior shares that stress heightens the limbic-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, the pathway that promotes increased food intake. Psychoneuroendocrinology also found that stress leads to high activity of cortisol, a hormone linked to frequent intake of calories and sweets.

It can also work the other way. The APA explains that stress can lead to nausea, stomach pains, and a suppressed appetite. Basically, you know something is up when you have too much of or can’t stomach your favorite meal.

03. Your period is irregular.

It’s no secret that Aunt Flo is a know-it-all. Your period signals what is going on within your body. And since menstruation is the culmination of your brain’s hormonal bond with your ovaries, mental stress can be the first to disrupt your cycle.

It comes down to prostaglandin, the hormone that facilitates cramps that work to shed your uterine lining. The International Journal on the Biology of Stress shares that stress increases prostaglandin, disrupting your body’s pregnancy prep. As a result, Aunt Flo’s schedule is thrown for a loop. A spike in prostaglandin can also amplify period symptoms, making cramps feel even worse. Cue the heating pad and yoga, please.

04. Your sleep schedule is off.

Sleeping is the body and mind’s prime time for recovery. But when you’re stressed, your brain has a hard time recuperating. UC Berkeley researchers found that those who suffer from constant anxiety are likely to experience sleep deprivation. That lack of sleep can intensify anxiety, leading to negative impacts that are harsher in those who are stressed to begin with. It’s a vicious cycle that calls for mindful practice of sleep-inducing habits to relieve stress before bedtime.

05. You break out.

While stress doesn’t directly cause pimples, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases explains that many stress-induced situations can encourage acne flare-ups. For example, you may be less likely to follow your skin regime during stressful times. You might also consume less fruits, vegetables, and water—all of which nourish the skin.

Stress can also aggravate hormonal acne that often comes with menstruation. Beforehand, testosterone levels spike, leading to increased oil production in the skin. Stress simply intensifies that process. Additionally, you’re likely to get less sleep, depriving your body (and skin) the time it needs to rest and regenerate.

06. You feel achy.

A head full of worry is the leading cause of tension headaches, according to Mayo Clinic. This type of headache is marked by dull pain that can make it difficult to go about your responsibilities. Furthermore, the APA explains that multiple areas of the musculoskeletal system, such as the neck and shoulders, tense up from stress. F1000Research also found that lower back pain is directly linked to stress and anxiety, further exhibiting the powerful effect your brain has on the rest of your body.

When you’re used to the hustle and bustle of life, the stress can pile up without notice. Take a moment to stop and think about when your body might be trying to tell you that it’s time to take it easy. While we can’t change the outside world, we can focus on how to handle what’s going on inside us.

Photo Credit: Erynn Christine Photography