For many people stress is part and parcel of everyday life, and some can even thrive under the pressures ahead of a deadline at work. However, if left unchecked, stress can have a severely negative impact on your life.
Mental Health Awareness Week runs 14th-20th May and this year’s campaign is focussed on stress, making this week an apt time to check in on yourself.
With that in mind, work through this list of common stress symptoms put together by therapist Tim Hipgrave, emotional health lead at Nuffield Health (opens in new tab), and see if any are familiar to you. If you can identify your stress, you can work on the causes before it exceeds your ability to cope.
1. Feeling Tired
“Stress has a physiological effect on your body by releasing hormones into your bloodstream that accelerate your heart rate and your breathing,” says Hipgrave. “This constant strain on your system can have an exhausting effect, leaving you feeling tired all the time.
“In a cruel twist, stress can also prevent you from sleeping. Stress has been found to activate the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis in the brain, which plays a part in sleep-wake regulation. You may experience sleep loss and find that you are constantly going over the same issue in your head again and again. This is your brain working overtime to try to find a solution.”
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2. Teeth Grinding
“Teeth grinding is a symptom of stress closely linked to a lack of sleep, because your subconscious has heightened activity and this plays out in your mouth,” says Hipgrave.
“Grinding your teeth can cause dental problems and also pain in your jaw, which can add to your suffering.”
“Tension headaches are known to be brought on by stress – in fact they’re sometimes known as stress headaches,” says Hipgrave.
“Lasting anything from half an hour to a few hours, these headaches feel like pressure on either side of the head and can also be accompanied by a tense neck and shoulders. If you suffer these headaches frequently, it’s very possible that you are suffering from stress.”
“Stress can affect our mood in ways that we find difficult to control,” says Hipgrave. “When we are stressed our nervous system is hyper-responsive and our sensory receptors are more sensitive to stimuli, making everything seem more intense. This can add to the feeling of perceived pressure, and make us more reactive.
“Often if you’re stressed some of the physiological side effects, such as a lack of sleep or a sore head, can also contribute to the effect on your mood.”
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“For some, the emotional responses to stress can lead to tears, as well as or instead of irritability,” says Hipgrave.
“But tears are not just an effect of stress – they have a function in supporting you through stress too. When you cry you release excess stress hormones such as cortisol in your tears, like a safety valve. So feeling better after a good cry isn’t an old wives’ tale – it’s down to the hormonal release.”
6. Loss Of Libido
“In order for your libido (sexual desire) to function properly, your hormone balance and neurological pathways need to be in sync,” says Hipgrave. “When you are stressed, you release stress hormones, which interfere with this balance and can lead to a loss of libido.”
“It’s common for people who are stressed to have a poor diet or to overeat,” says Hipgrave. “One factor is that stressed people will often be short on time and resort to unhealthy convenience foods.
“People who are in a stressed state may lose their appetite in the short term. This is because part of the brain called the hypothalamus produces a corticotropin-releasing hormone, which suppresses appetite. But people who are chronically stressed release cortisol, which increases your appetite, especially for sweet and starchy foods. This is where the term ‘stress eating’ comes from.”
8. Becoming Less Social
“Everybody has times in their life when they just want to relax in peace on their own, but when this becomes too common it may be an indication that you are stressed,” says Hipgrave.
“When everything feels like it’s getting too much, it’s a natural inclination to hide away, particularly if the stressor that you are reacting to is social. But social withdrawal will usually have a negative effect on your life, which can make things worse all round.”
“One of the most direct effects stress has on our overall health is suppressing the immune system,” says Hipgrave. “This is because when we are stressed we release cortisol into our bloodstream and when cortisol is released, the immune-supporting hormone DHEA can’t be released at the same time, so our immune system suffers.
“So, if you find you’re catching colds very easily, or can’t shake them off, it may be because you have a reduced immune system, which can be a result of stress.”
“The chemicals released into your bloodstream when you experience stress increase your heart rate, as well as the speed of your breathing,” says Hipgrave. “This can be quite distressing and, if severe, can lead to feelings of panic including what are known as panic attacks. You might feel shortness of breath or start to panic as you hyperventilate. Hyperventilation is closely linked to anxiety, and can usually be resolved by removing yourself from the situation and actively trying to slow your breathing.”
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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