When you’re trying to pay bills, meet deadlines at work, and handle all of the other incidental events life throws your way on a daily basis, it is easy to ignore that slight twitch in your eye. But you probably shouldn’t, since Discovery Fit & Health lists a twitching eye as a sign of stress, and stress can lead to serious health concerns like heart attacks. On top of that, it is possible to not realize you are stressed, suffering instead from “hidden stress.”
Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir explains how this is possible. He described cognitive capacity to NPR as a “very limited bandwidth.” When demands in life pile up, our focus narrows, and certain factors — like how much stress we are under — can be lost. “It’s like driving on a stormy night,” Shafir stated. “You’re focused completely on the thing that’s capturing your attention right now, and other things get neglected.”
Shafir’s work has demonstrated that it isn’t only when we are stressed that we lose sight of the bigger picture. Poverty can similarly impair cognitive function. In “Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function,” Shafir explains that when a person has serious financial concerns to consider, they suffer the same cognitive impact as if they had lost an entire night’s worth of sleep. The same process is at play when poverty is impeding how we function as stress. We cannot juggle all the moving pieces, and ultimately our cognitive resources are drained.
Needless to say, monetary concerns can often cause stress, increasing the importance of recognizing when our bodies are exhibiting signs of stress — regardless of whether we think we are stressed out or not.
Starting with the commonly cited signs, stress can manifest itself in an emotional, physical, mental, or behavioral manner, WebMD explains. Emotionally, you could become more easily agitated; physically, you might feel ill or suffer from insomnia. Behavioral changes can take place too, including a decreased appetite, or you might start fidgeting. Making bad decisions, having racing thoughts, disorganization, and forgetfulness are a few of the cognitive signs that you are under too much stress.
Just as you can be afflicted with “hidden stress,” you can have “hidden stress symptoms,” or lesser known signs that you need to try an relax. In addition to eyelid twitching, a sore or dry mouth are symptoms of hidden stress.
Outwardly, your skin can reflect if your stressed. Blood flow is altered when we are under too much pressure, going to the most important organs Discovery Fit & Health states. This can result in random cuts and bruises, or cause abrasions to bleed less than usual. Gil Yosipovitch, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at Wake Forest University, told Prevention that acne has a spot on the list of hidden stress signs because it increases inflammation, causing adults to have acne breakouts. Another skin signal is itching. “The stress response activates nerve fibers, causing an itchy sensation,” Yosipovitch stated.
Whether it is an unusual rash, a craving for comfort food, or headaches, if a symptom begins to appear regularly don’t ignore it or assume that because you don’t feel stressed that you aren’t. These warnings can be signs of larger health problems to come, making it incredibly important that you are aware of the different ways your body is telling you to take a step back, and try to relax. You can also check out these 11 tips on ways you can lead a low-stress life.