It’s impossible to avoid stress completely, but too much stress (and especially chronic stress) can lead to both short-term discomfort and long-term health complications. But if stress is a “feeling,” then what can stress do to your body? What are the signs and symptoms of stress?
In this stress symptoms checklist, Complete Care answers these questions and more. As a trusted freestanding ER, Complete Care frequently sees the effects of extreme and/or chronic stress on the members of our community. If you are feeling overwhelmed by stress, we encourage you to seek proactive help to reduce the likelihood of a stress-related health emergency.
However, should such an emergency ever arise, rest assured that we will be here for you with quick, effective, and patient-centered treatment and care.
A quick note about what stress is and why we feel it
Some stress is normal — in fact, stress is the body’s way of trying to protect you. When you experience a stressful situation, your body reacts instinctively. Your muscles tense up, your nervous system releases cortisol and adrenaline (“energy” hormones), and your heart rate increases. In males, the amount of testosterone in your body also increases significantly.
All of these reactions prime you for handling a temporary bad situation with more ease. Over the short term, stress can steel you against illness, respond to intense, fight-or-flight situations, help you focus, and more. In these ways, stress can actually be good.
But if your body’s natural reaction to stress is constantly “on,” your body can get worn down, the systems that respond to stress can become overtaxed, and the constant flood of once-helpful hormones may begin to have adverse effects.
When that happens, the signs and symptoms of stress in question start cropping up. As you read through these lists, keep in mind that everyone experiences stress differently, and that the way your body and mind react to stress may change over time or from one stressful situation to the other.
Physical signs and symptoms of stress
One of your body’s physical reactions to stress is for your muscles to tense up. When some people experience chronic stress, the long-term buildup of tension in their chest muscles can create chest pain. This pain can be exacerbated by an increase in heart rate. It can also be made worse if the individual struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. No matter the cause, chest pain should always be taken seriously.
For more information on chest pain as related to stress, panic attacks, and anxiety, please see our article: When Should I Go to the ER for Chest Pain?
Clenched jaw & teeth grinding
Like stress-related chest pain, muscle tension can also lead to individuals regularly clenching their teeth or grinding their teeth overnight. Unfortunately, chronic muscle tension in your jaw can quickly lead to temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, (also called bruxism). Unfortunately, once you have TMJ, it can be extremely hard to break the cycle of teeth grinding, which can lead to further dental health issues.
Fatigue or low energy
While short-term stress can give you an energy boost, long-term exposure to stress wears out your body and can drain you of energy. If stress also creates problems with your normal sleep cycle, then this problem can be compounded. Unfortunately, fatigue can cause you to fall behind on responsibilities, make it harder for you to find the motivation to exercise, and encourage you to overeat, which in turn can make you feel more stressed. Like anxiety, fatigue and stress can also create an unpleasant feedback loop.
Frequent colds and infections
Again, short-term stress can actually temporarily increase your immune system’s ability to protect you from illness. Chronic stress, however, causes your immune system to tank and leaves you especially susceptible to illness. And again, if stress also disrupts your sleep cycle, your normal exercise routine, or your eating habits, then you are that much more likely to get sick. At Complete Care, we see this happening the most often during the holidays, when overburdened schedules and the cold and flu season combine
We all know that our “gut” is home to millions of (good) types of bacteria, but did you also know that the gut also has hundreds of millions of neurons? Both the neurons and bacteria in your stomach can be affected by high levels of stress, causing you to feel everything from “butterflies” in your stomach to having to deal with nausea, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and more.
Muscle tension caused by stress can also increase your susceptibility to headaches, including migraines. Bad posture can compound the effects of muscle tension headaches, so if you have a stressful desk job, you may be suffering from a double blow, here.
Heart rate and blood pressure issues
When reacting to a stressful situation, your body releases adrenaline, which in turn increases your heart rate and blood pressure. Over time, a high heart rate and high blood pressure can contribute to cardiovascular diseases and hypertensive crises.
Muscle tension and body aches
One of the body’s standard ways of reacting to stress is to tense up your muscles. It does this so that your body is more prepared to act and move quickly. While this is great in an emergency situation, chronic stress can lead to chronic muscle tension, which in turn can lead to chronic body aches. Most people experience this type of pain in their face, neck, and shoulders. As we’ve discussed, it can also manifest as chest and jaw pain.
Adrenaline also sends signals to your eccrine glands — your sweat glands. Why we sweat when we’re stressed or nervous is still being debated by the scientific community. One prevailing theory is that “nervous” sweat, which has a different composition and smells more strongly than “exercise” sweat, signals distress to the people around us. Another theory is that nervous sweat has less water just to keep us more hydrated and more prepared to cool down our bodies if needed. Regardless, if you notice that you are sweating more than usual lately, it may be because you are experiencing undue amounts of stress.
Behavioral signs and symptoms of stress
When people feel stressed, one of the first healthy habits to fall off the to-do list is often exercise. This is especially unfortunate, as exercise is one of the best combatants of stress. Regular exercise can help lessen the effects of depression, boost your mood via endorphins, and help regulate your sleep schedule.
Increased drug and alcohol use
One of the most potentially deleterious behavioral symptoms of stress is the increased use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Many of these substances provide temporary relief to feelings of stress, but when used to excess can create costly, unhealthy habits.
Insomnia or oversleeping
By setting hormones to pump through your body and making your muscles constantly tense, stress does not set you up for a good night’s sleep. Alternatively, individuals whose bodies react to stress in a way that increases their depression may in fact have issues getting out of bed.
Overeating and undereating
When your body is stressed in the short-term, your body (specifically your hypothalamus) actually suppresses your appetite. In the long-term, this pattern of under-eating or loss of appetite may continue, especially if an individual tends to skip meals when busy or loses interest in food when depressed.
For others, when stress has disrupted sleep patterns and created fatigue, they may be more tempted to reach for foods high in sugars and carbohydrates. These foods not only taste good, but answer your body’s need for energy. Over time, however, eating this type of food when you’re stressed can result in cravings and even dependency.
The long-term health repercussions of stress
Chronic stress symptoms occur when your body is exposed to long bouts of stress. In many ways, these repercussions are more “extreme” versions of the signs and symptoms of stress outlined above. They include but are not limited to increased likelihood of:
- Eating disorders: Obesity, compulsive eating, anorexia, bulimia
- Cardiovascular diseases: Heart attacks, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, arrhythmia
- Gastrointestinal problems: GERD, ulcerative colitis, IBS
- Psychiatric disorders: Anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia
- Dermatological issues: Eczema, acne, psoriasis, hair loss
- Sexual dysfunction: Impotence, menstrual issues, loss of libido
In many cases, chronic stress can also alienate individuals from their loved ones and significantly reduce their quality of life. In short, if you recognize that you are suffering from any of these signs and symptoms of stress on a long-term basis, it truly is in your best interest to practice stress management and, if necessary, seek help.
When stress leads to medical emergencies, Complete Care is here
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of stress is often the first step towards learning how to manage your stress and live a healthier and happier life.
However, if you or someone you love is not managing or has not managed their stress well, then it’s important to be aware stress can contribute to major health concerns. If you are feeling overwhelmed by stress, we encourage you to seek proactive help to reduce the likelihood of a stress-related health emergency.
In the event that you do need help, Complete Care is here to help. Our stand alone emergency room facilities are able to offer our patients with the same level of care as an emergency room attached to a hospital, but without the wait time. We are open 24/7 and are typically able to see walk-ins within a few minutes, not hours.
We take the stress out of emergency care. Visit your nearest Complete Care location today for quick, efficient, patient-centered care today.
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- How to Have Safe Holidays During the Pandemic
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