Stress is a big problem, both emotionally and physically.
According to a report from the American Psychological Association, several factors have compelled adults to feel overstressed over the past decade, including discrimination, political issues, and an over-reliance on electronic devices.
Stress can have an enormous effect on health, as it causes the body to release the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is an important feature of our fight-or-flight response, but sustained high cortisol levels can weaken the immune system, overwork the circulatory system, and cause serious health problems.
But how do you know if you’re overstressed? Listen to your body. Here are a few of the most common physical signs.
1. Frequent Headaches
These may be accompanied by jaw pain or grinding teeth. Stress can cause jaw muscles to tense up, which can cause headaches. You may notice these symptoms more right after you wake up.
If you do find that you’ve been grinding your teeth, be sure to get it sorted out sooner rather than later. Frequent teeth grinding can lead to a huge dental bill, so until you manage your stress, you’ll want to find a way to minimize the damage.
You may not be able to sleep when you’re overstressed. This isn’t purely due to the emotional effects of stress; higher cortisol levels can make restful sleep much less attainable. However, the emotional effects are certainly substantial, as you may have racing thoughts and constant worrying.
3. Changes in Appetite
This is also caused by the high cortisol levels. It’s important to note that stress affects everyone differently, so you may see your appetite increase, decrease, or stay exactly the same—that’s why you should speak with a therapist or physician if you believe that you might be over-stressed.
4. A High Heart Rate
As Howard LeWine, M.D. writes in Harvard Health Publications, many factors influence a resting heart rate. However, if your heart rate creeps up to 90 beats per minute during periods of high stress, you may need to speak with your doctor.
During periods of extreme stress, you might even notice heart palpitations, which create an uncomfortable “fluttery’ sensation in your chest. Theses are serious symptoms, but Dr. LeWine notes that you can reduce stress by performing meditation or tai-chi.
5. Digestive Issues
High cortisol levels can affect your digestive system, and if you’re having trouble getting restful sleep, you’re likely to experience additional digestive problems. These may manifest as an upset stomach, nausea, changes in bowel movement frequency, or general aches and pains.
6. Dry Mouth
Stress and anxiety can make the body more prone to acid reflux, according to Calm Clinic. As your body produces more acid, your salivary glands may slow production, leading to a feeling of dry mouth.
This symptom can also be caused by dehydration, hormonal changes, and a host of other health issues, so get this checked out if it’s a frequent issue.
7. Difficulty Concentrating
This is due to how cortisol and adrenaline interact. In the short term, it actually improves your memory, but prolonged exposure may leave you feeling frequently confused. You may have trouble learning or sustaining concentration on a single task.
As mentioned earlier, meditation, tai-chi, prayer, and similar techniques can help you deal with stress, as can exercise, a proper diet, and socializing with friends. However, you should also address the root causes of stress; while management techniques can be very effective, you’ll need a holistic approach. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your physician for help. Stress and anxiety can be difficult to deal with, but they’re certainly manageable.