For humans, stress is a natural reaction to problems that we can’t immediately figure out. When a dangerous or worrisome situation presents itself, our bodies respond by releasing both cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream. Cortisol is a regulating hormone that takes control of the body’s nonessential functions so you don’t have to. Adrenaline increases your heart rate and boosts your energy to prepare you to take action. Both of these stress hormones heighten your senses and let you respond to the problem quickly.
Normally, after the stressful situation has ended, the body is supposed to stop pumping out the two hormones and slowly return back to normal. You regain your calm and composure and can go back to your natural, relaxed state until the next time something threatening happens. Stress presented and resolved in this way is healthy, and even good for you. It’s all a survival instinct meant to keep you from falling slack and never solving any of your problems–stressing over when a project is due should help to motivate you to get it done, for example.
Encountering a problem, releasing hormones, resolving the conflict, and calming back down is generally how a normal stress cycle is supposed to work, but for many people, this isn’t the case. Nowadays, many people are stressed about one thing or another almost all the time. Their problems are never resolved, so they never get a break to calm down, and they end up with an overabundance of cortisol and adrenaline.
Countless researchers, from everyday journalists to celebrated doctors to the thousands that contribute to the Mayo Clinic, all agree that too much stress can be extremely harmful to both physical and mental health. In excess, the hormone cortisol can increase a person’s chances of anxiety, depression, headaches, memory loss, weight changes, heart disease, digestion problems, sleep problems, and more.
Even though there have been multiple studies in the past few years showing that stress levels are much higher than they used to be, heavy stress has become so commonplace in modern society that it’s seen as a default, normal state. With such an attitude surrounding stress, a lot of people don’t even realize that they have become overcome by it for way too long. To help combat that fate for yourself, check yourself for these common signs of stress that you might have been ignoring.
One of the top causes of headaches is an excess of stress. Cortisol and adrenaline heighten your senses, which means your body and brain are hypersensitive to pain signals.
Additionally, when your cortisol levels remain high for too long, your body starts to run out of the hormone. This triggers an increase of prolactin as the body tries to make more, which further increases the body’s pain sensitivity. If you let it built up, it can quickly lead to frequent headaches and even powerful migraines.
2. Digestive Problems
The digestive system works best when everything is calm and routine. When a stressful situation causes a sudden increase of hormones that kick the body into overdrive, it surprises the digestive system and can either speed it up or slow it down far too much.
Common side effects of quick anxiety attacks usually include some mention of a messed up system–so imagine what being that stressed all the time can do to you. Constant stress can lead disturb your system enough to even give you irritable bowel syndrome.
3. Getting Sick Frequently
With stress making your heart rate stay up all the time, your circulatory system will definitely feel the weight of all the extra work it’s being put through. That can lead to increased blood pressure, and the two together can suppress your immune system.
With weakened defenses to viruses and bacteria, it’ll only be a matter of time before you fall ill. It’ll be harder for your body to fight off the sickness as well, and if you stay stressed, it’ll only keep happening.
4. Weight Changes
Stress can actually affect your weight in a number of different ways. Cortisol can increase blood sugar, which increases your insulin levels, which then decrease your blood sugar again, which makes you crave sweet foods, which for some people leads to weight gain.
Similarly, your body’s survival instinct under constant stress might be to slow down and conserve energy by converting it to fat.
On the opposite end, an excess of stress can make you lose your appetite, or even overwork your body to the point of malnourishment, causing you to lose weight in a very unhealthy way. Any significant changes in your weight that aren’t normal, average fluctuations can be a sign that you’re piling up too much stress inside of you.
5. Stomach Problems
In the same vein as digestive issues, your stomach is also a big indicator that you need some time to relax. If your digestive system seems fine, check your stomach instead.
Your hormones will be too busy thinking you’re dying and trying to prevent that to take care of your tum like they usually do. Constantly worrying and being on edge can cause ulcers, nausea, indigestion, and cramps.
Some teas may help ease these kinds of discomfort.
With the inside of your body spending so much time in overdrive, it’s highly likely that on the outside, you’ll be feeling constantly exhausted. Normally, your cortisol levels drop at nighttime and allow you to fall asleep easily–but if they never drop, you’ll still be feeling jittery when you’re trying to sleep.
Like with headaches, the reduction of other hormones will also make you susceptible to chronic fatigue. Cortisol also suppresses the production of another specific hormone called serotonin, which basically carries happiness to the brain.
A lack of seratonin is the main cause of depression, so without it, you’ll be mentally exhausted as well as physically.
7. Chest Pain
As mentioned before, stress causes anxiety by producing hormones that make you jumpy and hypersensitive to stimuli. With this anxiety comes an elevated heart rate, which can cause chest pain and tightness–which, of course, will only increase the worry that you’re feeling, which will only make the problems worse.
If you notice yourself feeling chest pains, it’s imperative that you get it checked out, as excess stress can lead to blood clots that can cause heart disease or strokes.
8. Loss of Sex Drive
While many people have a low libido in the first place, if you notice that you’re not feeling it as much as you used to, that could be a sign that you’re swimming in stress.
When your body is focusing all of its energy on producing your stress hormones, it won’t give a second thought to your sex hormones. Chronic stress can even affect you permanently in that area, as it can cause both ovulation problems and decrease sperm count.
9. Small Problems Into Big Problems
Okay, this is more mental than physical as the other signs but well worth including it here. A good sign you may be having excessive stress is when you start making a big deal out of little problems that cause you anxiety in every day life. Although it is sometimes normal to worry and be proactive when trying to solve small issues, it’s a sign of something more serious when you are constantly making a HUGE deal out of little things.
This usually means there is baggage of unresolved conflicts from previous negative experiences that may cause you to become a little paranoid about everything that begins to feel out of your control.
While things like hormones and the causes of stress might be well out of your control, there are some things that you can do to help give yourself some peace. To start, you shouldn’t try to avoid your stress and act like it doesn’t exist. That mindset is how it builds up inside of you in the first place. Confront it, acknowledge that it exists, and accept that you probably won’t be able to expel it completely.
Then, try some of these methods to lessen its impact on your life. If one doesn’t work for you, don’t worry–people are different and everyone reacts to things in different ways. The important thing is that you find a method that works well for you.
- Keep a personal journal or blog to write your problems in. Every day, take ten or so minutes to write down your situation and what you’re unhappy with. It doesn’t have to be everything; take the time to detail and explain things to yourself one at a time and allow yourself to organize your mind through your writing.
- If talking to yourself doesn’t help, try talking to someone else. A trusted family member or close friend can lend a caring ear, or if you want something less personal, consider talking to a professional or finding anonymous vent sites online. Getting your problems off of your chest and gaining support from someone else will help you feel less alone and can help towards your recovery.
- Creativity can go a long way in making you feel better both physically and mentally. When you have the time, try to find yourself a hobby or activity that you enjoy and that makes you feel good. This can be anything from volunteering to coloring to meditating–whatever you think is both fun and relaxing.
- For some, the best stress reliever is exercise. This doesn’t necessarily mean heavy cardio and lifting weights, though it can if that’s what works for you. You can also try walking at a comfortable pace. Even wandering around the house for ten minutes a day can be enough to have you feeling better. Stretching, either by simply reaching for your toes or doing complex yoga, can help as well. Practicing a few breathing exercises can help you calm yourself down if you ever start to feel extra stress.
- To relax further, try to set aside some time to immerse yourself in comfort. Get into a hot, soothing bath, take yourself out to dinner, or set up scented candles and calming music for a night in. If you’re looking to really treat yourself, consider getting a professional massage. Letting someone release the physical tension in your body can be an important step in getting over your mental tension.
A lot of the stress we have in our lives starts with your mind. This starts to manifest in the body in various forms of pain. It is important to learn to be more optimistic and positive and practice focusing more on good thing, yet it is also important to learn to let go of past stressing situations that we have no longer control of.
Learn more about how I got out of negative thinking and changed my life as a result.