For the most part, people can recognize the signs of being stressed out. You’re constantly overthinking, worrying, and getting sick. Stress is our reaction to harmful situations and deteriorates our physical and mental health over time. The fact that we’re so desensitized to modern-day stressors means we put ourselves at risk for health issues.
Pay attention to situations in your life that may be triggering any of the following symptoms.
1. Frequent headaches
Most of the pains we feel in our noggins are likely caused by tension headaches. We subconsciously tense the muscles around our neck and shoulders during work or when we sleep, which in turn, causes headaches. WebMD explains these pains are usually felt in the forehead or the back of the head and neck. The pain is typically dull but constant, and you may feel pressure as well. They are the most common type of headache in adults, so do yourself a favor and practice some stress-relieving tactics to get rid of them.
2. Body aches and pains
Sometimes it’s hard to determine the difference between stress-related aches and workout soreness. According to Everyday Health, when we stress out, our sympathetic nerve system activates the flight-or-fight response. “Blood is then sent to major muscle groups that increase muscle tension and prepare you to fight or flee a situation. If you do not take any action, muscles can become sore or painful,” Amy Przeworski, Ph.D., told the publication.
3. You’re always sick
If you are always under the weather with the flu, a cold, or another illness, there’s a chance it could be from poor nutrition or stress. The main hormone that rises when you’re stressed is cortisol, which can negatively affect your immune system. When you’re exposed to cortisol for long periods of time, your body may be more susceptible to sickness, says Breaking Muscle.
4. Itchy skin
Sounds odd, but think about when you’re stressed — you may subconsciously scratch your arm or even parts of your face. Calm Clinic says this is because stress increases the inflammation of our skin. Sometimes, physical sensations feel more intense when we endure anxiety. We can often experience tingling sensations that we mistake for itchiness. Weird stuff.
Think your acne is just from eating bad over the weekend? It’s possible, but when you get one huge zit or totally break out, stress may be to blame. Our skin is worse than usual because stress can make you produce more sebum, the oily substance that can clog pores. More sebum means more opportunities for blocked hair follicles and acne lesions to form. Though stress won’t necessarily cause acne in people who aren’t already prone, WebMD explains it can make what would have been a minor breakout a lot worse.
6. Increased sweating
The reason we sweat when we’re stressed is quite interesting. Some scientists say sweating plays an evolutionary role in sending warning signals to people around us. Sweat from exercise and sweat from stress are produced differently, though. The Wall Street Journal explains sweat caused by stress is from apocrine glands and is triggered by adrenaline, the hormone that causes us to react quickly when facing a threatening situation. If you have a stressful business meeting coming up, wear dark colors just in case.
7. Lack of concentration
When it feels as if your mind is being pulled in every direction and you can’t seem to complete anything on time when you have tons to do, your stress levels may be to blame. Dr. Timothy Wilens, M.D., tells Fox News how stress can really affect your ability to think clearly and focus. “It competes with your cognitive centers — the areas in the brain that are responsible for quick, sharp thoughts — so being anxious or stressed drags focus down even further,” he says.
While it seems those heart-palpitating moments of stress should leave us more awake than ever, they actually completely deplete our energy. Dr. Edward Pace-Schott, a professor at Harvard Medical School’s division of sleep medicine, tells The Atlantic our brain has a certain amount of short-term storage for holding memories. When you have an emotional response to something, your brain makes a note that the memory is important and attempts to store it.
This is all fine and well — until you start stressing out. Stress leads to a heightened emotional state, so you start telling your brain to store it all. Unfortunately, there’s only so much room. Attempting to store too much info can leave you feeling drained.
What this means for your memory
In light of that last point, it only makes sense our memories would also be affected. The Centre for Studies on Human Stress explains exactly how our memories work: When you first learn something new, like someone’s phone number, your brain prepares it to become a longer lasting memory. Then, by repeating that phone number, you can consolidate it so it becomes a part of your long-term memory. Unfortunately, stress can interfere with any of these steps.
Stress is a lot for your brain to handle, so you may find yourself forgetting you have a meeting or where you placed your things when you’re really anxious.
9. Low libido
There are many things that can diminish your sex drive, but too much time spent at the office is definitely a culprit. Dr. Stöppler at MedicineNet.com explains a decreased interest in sex is one of the many symptoms of chronic stress. It’s not all bad news, though — Health mentions exercising has been shown to increase sex drive, and you’re also more likely to feel confident about your body if you’re a regular at the gym. This, in turn, can give your libido the boost it needs while reducing stress.
10. Hunger and weight gain
Diet and exercise are the keys to maintaining a healthy weight — this we know to be true. But, when you add chronic stress levels to the mix, things can get dicey. Pamela Peeke, M.D., tells Prevention, “Even if you usually eat well and exercise, chronic high stress can prevent you from losing weight — or even add pounds.”
When you’re stressed, your brain tells your cells to release adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline accesses your energy stores in case you really do need to fight an attacker or run for your life. Cortisol then comes in to replenish that energy, which can signal hunger pangs. While this is useful if you’re in a life-or-death situation, here’s the trouble: Under chronic stress, this happens constantly. Which means your hunger pangs are unrelenting, too.
11. Digestive issues
It’s likely your chronic stress is leading to some uncomfortable digestive issues. Everyday Health explains when you enter fight-or-flight mode, your digestion essentially stops. And your central nervous system halts blood flow, which can cause problems for your digestive muscles. If it’s everyday stress that’s causing you this much panic, you’re bound to have some discomfort.
Kenneth Koch, M.D., tells the publication you may feel nauseous or have diarrhea, indigestion, or issues with constipation as a result of your high stress levels. It can even make preexisting conditions like celiac disease and stomach ulcers worse.
12. Rapid heart beat
Your first thought may be heart attack when you feel your ticker beating faster than usual, but stress is actually a more likely cause. You can experience palpitations and may even feel short of breath, dizzy, or faint.
WebMD explains these symptoms may be frightening, but they usually are from stress or anxiety as opposed to anything more serious. Having too much caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol, as well as hormonal changes and certain medications, can also cause a rapid heart beat. If you do think your symptoms could be the sign of something more serious, it’s never a bad idea to ask your doctor.
13. Feeling frustrated or irritable
Finding your family, co-workers, and friends a little more annoying than usual? They’re probably not doing anything differently — your stress levels are most likely to blame. Guy Winch, Ph.D., tells Psychology Today that when you have a constant flood of stress hormones, your body is always prepared for a threat. This can make us jumpy, irritable, and pretty unpleasant to be around.
The next time you’re feeling easily irritated in a social setting, try isolating yourself to a quiet place for a bit. Take a few deep breaths, listen to your favorite song, or do something to relax. You’ll lower your stress levels and reduce tension between you and the rest of the room.
Additional reporting by Lauren Weiler