Stress can be subtle. You might not even know you are stressed until you get so far gone that your body gives you a notice you can’t ignore. From upset stomachs, to knotted shoulders, to even worse symptoms, stress can cause or start a number of illnesses that can then spiral out of control. If you have symptoms you can’t explain and have been under a lot of stress lately then those things might be symptoms of too much stress. Here are some common ways your body reacts to too much stress:
- Stomach Problems – One of the most common symptoms of over stress is stomach upset. Even young children often complain of stomach aches when they are stressed about going to school, taking a test or facing a crowd. The idea of butterflies in your stomach does not do justice to the lasting effects unattended stress can have on your stomach. Over production of acid due to stress can cause ulcers and even stomach bleeding that can prove fatal in extreme cases. The over production of acid also causes problems with digestion and the upset stomach makes you less desirous of food. This can lead to malnourishment in the long term. Many people find success in treating the upset stomach with an over the counter acid neutralizer, either once a day or as pain occurs, but that is just masking the problem. The stress must be reduced to fully heal.
- Over Eating and Poor Nutrition – As I mentioned, stomach problems can mean poor nutrition as far as not eating enough. However many people also find that they eat when they are stressed. They over eat in fact. Many people look to comfort foods, foods that they are familiar with, to make their stress seem not so bad. However comfort foods are often high in calories and low in nutrition. Over eating can cause weight gain and add to the problems. Eating the wrong foods or indulging in one food too much, like chocolate or potato chips or candy, can mean serious problems. It is important to maintain a balanced diet. Not only for your physical health but for your mental health too. Too much sugar and fat can really change your health fast and leave you in even worse physical shape then you were before the stress.
- Bowel and Bladder Problems – Another issue with digestion is often seen with bowel problems. People under a great deal of stress might find themselves having diarrhea or loose stools. This is due to the muscles cramping in the bowels due to stress. However some people can also have extreme constipation that manifests as diarrhea. It could be that their bowls have craped up so much that the solid waste cannot move through and only the liquid waste is passed. Solutions like anti-diarrheal medication just compound the problem and it can become a serious health risk. Frequent urination is also a sign of stress. The body is prepared to fly or fight and cannot keep the muscles from cramping around the bladder. This can be very embarrassing and hard to deal with.
- Headaches – Another very frequent symptom of high stress is headaches. We all get headaches when we are dealing with something very stressful of frustrating. However those with high stress levels can often live with headaches all day, every day. This is not healthy and could be due to high blood pressure from stress. It could also trigger problems like migraines or even aneurisms; that can be fatal. Strokes, heart attacks, and other high blood pressure issues are often attributed to high stress levels and constant headaches are a symptom. Check your blood pressure and keep it, and your stress, under control.
- Muscle Pain – Stress makes every muscle in your body tense up and after a long time that can only mean pain. Many of us have areas that are problems when we are stressed. For one of us it could be sore shoulders and neck. Another could be lower back, and another could be your rear end or even your legs. No matter where the pain manifests from, it is a sign of high stress. The constant muscle pain can also cause damage to your bones and joints by pulling too much. Nerves can get inflamed too, which hurts a lot. Tennis elbow and flare ups of the sciatic nerve in the back and legs are common complaints from people under high stress. Stiffness in muscles and joints are another sign of stress too.
- Tiredness and Weakness – Due to all the pressure on the muscles this can often result in weakness. Feeling like you can’t move or are struggling to do daily activities can be a sign that your body is giving up under the strain. You can only go so long all stressed out before your body burns out. Feeling tired all the time is another way your body shows it is burnt out. If you feel like you never get enough sleep, want to nap in the middle of the day, or are just sleepy when you shouldn’t be then it could be a sign you are under too much stress.
- Insomnia – Another reason you could be feeling tired is because of insomnia or the inability to sleep. You need to get at least eight hours a night of sleep and you have to have at least four hours of that uninterrupted. Broken sleep patterns or irregular sleep can affect your health in a lot of ways. If you can’t sleep then it may be a sign that you have too much on your mind. Reduce your stress and try to find out why you can’t sleep. You need regular sleep to feel healthy, happy and normal.
- Hives – Hives are usually a sign of an allergic reaction in your skin. Bug bites, poison plants, or even environmental allergies can cause your skin to rise up in painful, itchy spots. However hives can also rise up under stress. The body starts to attack its own nerve endings causing small painful bumps that last several days or larger, itchy, bug bite like bumps that only last a few hours. Although an anti-histamine medication can resolve most of the symptoms, reducing your stress should be a priority.
- Reoccurring Infections – Another manifestation of stress on the skin and other ways is virus reoccurrences. High stress levels reduce your body’s immune system, making it easy for viruses and bacteria to get a hold of you. Some viruses, like herpes, never really go away. When you are under stress you can have breakouts. Cold sores, sore throats, and even fungal infections are common when the body is under a lot of stress. If you are getting sick a lot of having many breakouts you could be over stressed.
- Acne Breakouts – Finally, although many doctors do not agree with what causes acne breakouts physically, it is known that high stress can make breakouts appear often. If you have acne or have had acne in the past then it is usual that a break out will occur when you are under stress. This is especially frustrating when the stress is due to, lest say, an upcoming wedding. Do you want pictures with a giant zit on your nose? Of course not! Although medication can heal, reducing your stress should be the primary goal to reduce the acne breakouts.
Stress manifests itself in different ways with different people. Even if you do not think you have too much stress you could just be unaware of what is really going on in your mind and in your life. Try to step back and look at the big picture if you are having any of these complaints. Is there something you need to change in your life? Reducing stress is the first step towards feeling better. You can treat the symptoms but if you do not deal with the cause then they will keep coming back. Enjoy some rest and get away from the things that stress you for a while and see if you can find new, healthy, ways of dealing with and reducing your stress.
Ken holds a master’s in business leadership from Upper Iowa University and multiple bachelor degrees from Grand View College. As president of morningsidenannies.com, Ken’s focus is helping Houston-based parents find the right childcare provider for their family. When he isn’t working, he enjoys spending time with his three children and his wife.