There are times when the to-do list becomes pages long, and everything feels in flux. Sometimes catastrophic events occur out of the blue, while other times tasks slowly add up. When stress levels rise too high, they can boil over and impact your health. Here are eight unexpected signs that stress is affecting your body:
The link between physical pain and stress has been often examined. Studies have shown that when high levels of the stress hormone cortisol were found in participants, they reported increased levels of pain. Stress and pain have many physiological overlaps, so if you’ve been experiencing chronic physical pain, your frazzled mental state may be a contributing factor.
In addition to causing physical pain, experiencing elevated stress levels can lead to a decrease in immune system effectiveness. Researchers in one study injected adults with the flu vaccine and discovered that those who were often stressed suffered a weakened immune response. Another study followed 235 adults for six months and found that those who were categorized as being high-stress experienced 70% more respiratory infections than those who were deemed low-stress.
If you’ve ever found yourself ‘eating your feelings’ while experiencing levels of stress, you aren’t alone. One possible effect of having excess cortisol in the body is experiencing high levels of hunger. During periods of stress, 62% of college students reported an increase in appetite while 38% reported experienced a decrease. Weight gain and weight loss are both potential signifiers that your stress levels are above average.
When you’re under stress, your adrenal glands can go into overdrive and cause stress hormones to flood your body. Certain compounds can deplete your electrolyte and fluid levels.
There are three ways that losing your hair could be stress-induced: telogen effluvium, trichotillomania, and alopecia areata. In telogen effluvium, stress causes your hair follicles to go dormant, which may cause hair to fall out on its own while you comb or brush it. Trichotillomania is the irresistible urge to cope with stress and other negative feelings by pulling your own hair out, and alopecia areata occurs when the body’s stress hormones lead the immune system to attack hair follicles.
A study evaluated the impact of chronic stress on memory primarily by having male rodents perform spatial navigation tasks. The tests revealed that chronic stress impairs spatial memory, which makes you more likely to forget things like where you put your wallet in the morning.
If you’re experiencing a persistent knot in your stomach or feel like you have to throw-up, stress may be to blame. Stress can impact digestion in many ways because your nervous system starts going haywire.
Though it may be surprising to learn, being stressed out can make you focus on the upside of situations. While this may initially sound like a good thing, it can make decision making more difficult because the stressed brain has to choose between positive upsides without fulling taking consequences into consideration.
While having a lot on your plate can sometimes feel necessary, it’s important to take time for yourself and take necessary measures to reduce and prevent stress to the best of your ability. Your mind and your body will thank you.
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is a contributing writer for Color My Bubble. Her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets anthology.