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Signs your body is giving you that you're stressed

Signs your body is giving you that you're stressed

In our modern world, stress has become a pervasive part of everyday life. From work deadlines to family responsibilities, financial worries to health concerns, there are countless sources of stress that can affect us both mentally and physically. While occasional stress is normal and even beneficial in certain situations, chronic or prolonged stress can take a toll on our wellbeing.

Fortunately, our bodies often send us signals when stress levels are elevated, allowing us to recognise and address these issues before they escalate. In this article, we'll explore some common signs that your body may be showing you that you are stressed.

Physical symptoms

One of the most noticeable ways that stress manifests in the body is through physical symptoms. These can include headaches, muscle tension, jaw clenching, stomach problems, and changes in appetite or sleep patterns. When we experience stress, our bodies go into "fight or flight" mode, releasing hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol that can cause these physical reactions. Over time, chronic stress can lead to more serious health issues, including cardiovascular problems and weakened immune function (1).

Emotional changes

Stress doesn't just affect us physically; it can also have a significant impact on our emotional wellbeing. Common emotional signs of stress include irritability, anxiety, mood swings, and feelings of overwhelm. You may find yourself snapping at loved ones, feeling constantly on edge, or struggling to cope with everyday challenges. Chronic stress can also contribute to depression, making it difficult to find joy in activities you once enjoyed (2).

Cognitive symptoms

Stress can also impair cognitive function, affecting our ability to think clearly, concentrate, and make decisions. You may find yourself feeling forgetful, unfocused, or mentally fatigued. This can make it difficult to perform well at work or school, leading to feelings of frustration or inadequacy. Chronic stress has also been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia later in life (3).

Behavioural changes

When we're under stress, it can influence our behaviour in various ways. Some people may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as overeating, smoking, or excessive drinking to numb their feelings of stress. Others may withdraw from social activities, neglect self-care practices, or engage in risky behaviours. It's important to pay attention to these behavioural changes and seek support if you find yourself relying on unhealthy coping strategies to deal with stress (4).

Sleep disturbances

Stress can disrupt our sleep patterns, making it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or achieve restful sleep. You may find yourself tossing and turning at night, waking up frequently, or experiencing vivid dreams or nightmares. Poor sleep can exacerbate feelings of fatigue and irritability, making it even harder to cope with stress during the day. Developing good sleep hygiene habits and practicing relaxation techniques before bed can help improve sleep quality and reduce stress levels (5).

Digestive issues

Stress can also wreak havoc on our digestive system, leading to symptoms such as stomach pain, bloating, constipation, or diarrhoea. When we're stressed, our bodies produce more stomach acid, which can irritate the lining of the stomach and intestines. This can exacerbate existing gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or acid reflux. Paying attention to your digestive health and practicing stress-reducing techniques such as deep breathing or meditation can help alleviate these symptoms (6).

Tension in the body

Finally, stress often manifests as physical tension or tightness in the body, particularly in areas such as the neck, shoulders, and back. You may notice yourself clenching your jaw, tensing your muscles, or experiencing knots or cramps due to chronic muscle tension. Practicing relaxation techniques such as gentle stretching, massage, or progressive muscle relaxation can help release this tension and promote a sense of calm (7).

In summary

Our bodies are remarkably adept at signaling when something isn't right, and stress is no exception. By paying attention to these signs and addressing them promptly, we can take proactive steps to manage stress and promote overall wellbeing. Whether it's through physical activity, relaxation techniques, or seeking support from friends, family, or a mental health professional, there are many strategies available to help us cope with stress and lead happier, healthier lives.

What you can do

Exercise

Incorporating regular physical exercise into your routine is crucial for managing stress and promoting overall wellbeing. Exercise has been shown to reduce levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and increase the production of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters (8). Additionally, exercise can improve sleep quality, boost self-esteem, and provide a healthy outlet for pent-up energy and frustration. Whether it's going for a walk, practicing yoga, or hitting the gym, finding activities that you enjoy and incorporating them into your daily life can have a significant impact on your stress levels.

Get some sleep

Establishing good sleep hygiene is crucial to a good night’s sleep. Ensure a cool, dark, quiet bedroom, limit caffeine after noon, and avoid screens before bed. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule and practice relaxation techniques. Adopting healthy eating habits, like avoiding heavy meals before bed, supports better sleep. Limit alcohol, as it may induce drowsiness initially but disrupts sleep later (9). Incorporating these strategies fosters restorative sleep and aids stress management (10).

Mindfulness

In addition, practicing mindfulness exercises can significantly reduce stress levels and improve overall wellbeing. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment, which can help cultivate a sense of calm and clarity amidst life's challenges. One effective mindfulness practice is writing a daily stress diary or journal (11).

Writing a daily stress diary allows you to reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, helping you gain insight into your stress triggers and patterns. This process can also provide a sense of control and empowerment, as you actively engage with your emotions rather than feeling overwhelmed by them (12). Set aside a few minutes each day to write in your stress diary. Start by describing the events or situations that caused you stress, noting any physical or emotional reactions you experienced. Then, reflect on your thoughts and feelings about these events, exploring any patterns or themes that emerge. Finally, consider how you can cope with or respond to these stressors in a healthy and constructive way (13).

Check your levels

In addition to mindfulness exercises and physical activity, it's essential to keep an eye on your blood pressure (BP) and get your lipids checked regularly. High blood pressure and elevated lipid levels are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, which can be exacerbated by chronic stress (12). Monitoring your BP and lipid levels can provide valuable insights into your cardiovascular health and help identify any underlying issues that may need to be addressed. Consider incorporating these checks into your routine heart health maintenance, along with considering specialized tests like MyHealthChecked’s Heart Profile Blood Test, for a comprehensive understanding of your cardiovascular health status.

To take proactive steps towards managing your stress and overall wellbeing, consider MyHealthChecked’s General Health Blood Test. Additionally, if you're concerned about your digestive health, MyHealthChecked’s Bowel Health Rapid Test can provide valuable insights into any underlying issues. These tests can serve as essential tools in understanding and addressing the impact of stress on your body, empowering you to take control of your health and live your best life.


References

  1. American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Stress effects on the body.
  2. Mayo Clinic. (2021, October 21). Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior.
  3. Harvard Health Publishing. (2018, December). Stress and the sensitive gut.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, July 1). How stress affects your health.
  5. National Institute of Mental Health. (2021, June). Anytime is a good time to learn the signs of stress.
  6. Mayo Clinic. (2021, October 21). Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior.
  7. American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Stress effects on the body.
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Physical Activity for a Healthy Weight.
  9. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (n.d.). Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep. National Institutes of Health.
  10. National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Healthy Sleep Tips.
  11. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Training.
  12. Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(2), 169–183.
  13. Baikie, K. A., & Wilhelm, K. (2005). Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 11(5), 338–346.
  14. 12. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (n.d.). High Blood Pressure. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.