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Unless you’re a Buddhist monk who meditates in silence by the beautiful Cliffs of Moher every day, chances are you get stressed every now and again.
Most of the time, when you’re stressed you absolutely know it. You’re exhausted, your brain is buzzing, your muscles are tense and you’re constantly on the verge of screaming at someone.
Sometimes, stress is not so obvious. For some people, chronic stress can impact their body, before their mind has a chance to catch up. And this can be incredibly detrimental to our health and wellbeing. It’s estimated that 90% of all illness and disease is stress related, according to the Centres for Disease Control And Prevention.
So, if you’re feeling a little off or under the weather, here are few ways to discover if it might be stress related.
- You get sick all the time
If you always have a cough, cold or runny nose, it might have something to do with your stress levels.
Stress can take a severe toll on your immune system. When you’re stressed, your body produces a stress hormone called cortisol. And while this may help in the short term, as it becomes depleted over time, your immune system finds it harder to fight off sickness. Because of this, it also takes longer for your wounds to heal.
- You have back or neck pain
Headaches are a common sign of stress that most of us are aware of. However, back and neck pain can also stem from being too stressed out.
High levels of stress cause your muscles to tighten and spasm, specifically around the neck, shoulders and upper back. A lot of the time we tend to attribute this to our posture or maybe sitting behind a desk all day, but there’s a good chance that it could be to do with how tense you’re feeling.
- You have tummy problems
Stress can do strange things to your digestive system. You probably notice this most in high intensity situations like exams or job interviews, where you feel a sudden urge to rush to the bathroom.
With long-term stress, the impact on your digestion is more subtle but nonetheless harmful. Many people experience persistent heartburn, acid reflux, constipation or diarrhoea, without identifying the connection to stress.
Stress can make your oesophagus spasm and increase acid in your stomach. The cortisol that is produced in your body as a response to stress can shut down your digestive flow. It’s the fight or flight response that your body uses to protect you from harmful situations. Your brain stops what it perceives to be unnecessary bodily functions to help you run faster or perform more effectively when you’re under threat.
- You have trouble getting to sleep
If you’re exhausted but simply can’t drift off to sleep at night, you’re probably stressed.
Even if you’re not thinking about things that worry you, the physical effects of stress can stop you from sleeping properly or cause you to wake up during the night.
If this is the case, try to cut back on caffeinated drinks, do some exercise or meditate before bed. It’s also worth staying away from screens well before bed time as the stimulus that phones, laptops and tablets provide can unknowingly increase anxiety levels for some people.
- You wake up with a sore jaw
If you wake up with a stiff or achy jaw in the morning, it could be tension causing you to clench your mouth tightly or even grind your teeth. The medical definition of this is ‘Bruxism’ and it can be concerning for some people as it’s both hard to control and prevent the damage it causes to your teeth.
If this is affecting you, you may want to visit to your doctor and/or dentist.
- Your sex life is rubbish
Stress can have an incredibly negative impact on your libido and intimate relationships. It is the leading cause of erectile dysfunction among men and the emotional impact is has on women can cause them to withdraw and lose interest.
Again, this may be due to cortisol which can suppress sex hormones when it is being over produced. For women, this can also lead menstrual cycles to become irregular and PMS symptoms to heighten.
- You forget things
Stress can change the architecture of the brain. Researchers at The Rockerfeller University studied mice and found that when they suffered prolonged stress, this affected the amygdala; a part of the brain which controls anxiety and depression.
As well as impacting your mental health, stress can also harm your memory. Stanford researcher Robert Sapolsky found that the glucocorticoids which are secreted when you’re highly stressed can lead to the deterioration of the hippocampus which processes information.
- You want to eat salty food
Your appetite changes dramatically when you’re stressed. Some people find it hard to eat whilst others can’t stop.
Chronic stress can cause electrolyte imbalances which cause you to crave salty food. So if you’re constantly day dreaming about spice bags and crisps, stress could be to blame.
- You walk quickly
Even though stress makes you generally more tired and fatigued, it can also cause your body to move more frantically. You may find that you’re walking very quickly with no purpose or fidgeting more. This can be a result of muscle tension or an increased heart rate due to anxiety.
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