Stress is all around us. As we try our best to keep up with schedules, appointments and the fast-paced life in the 21st century, sometimes we fall short. While some stress in our lives is actually beneficial, too much stress can wear us down physically and mentally.
So what is stress?
Stress is the body’s reaction to harmful situations, whether those are real or perceived. A chemical reaction occurs in your body when you feel threatened—better known as “fight or flight”—and it prepares your body to protect itself. During stress response heart rate increases, breathing quickens, muscles tighten and blood pressure rises. In small doses, it can prevent you from getting hurt and help you accomplish tasks. Sometimes we’re so used to being stressed, we don’t even fully recognize our symptoms day in and day out. Five telltale signs your stressed include:
1. You have jaw aches, earaches or headaches
Did you know tension and worry can cause you to unknowingly clench and unclench your jaw for several seconds at a time? Bruxism, a classified sleep disorder, is a form of involuntary clenching habit, normally taking place while you are asleep, and is not a learned behavior but usually brought on by stress. Grinding and clenching overworks your jaw muscles, resulting in discomfort, headaches and earaches. In addition, grinding your teeth daily will slowly erode your teeth away.
2. You’re frequently sick
Chronic stress can significantly affect your physical health. When your body is in constantly in fight or flight mode, your immune system doesn’t function properly. Not to mention you probably aren’t getting enough sleep, so your more prone to catch a cold or more vulnerable to infection. It can also slow healing times, so you physical can’t bounce back and find yourself relapsing for weeks.
3. You find it hard to focus throughout the day
Cognitive symptoms of stress include inability to focus, forgetfulness, disorganization and poor judgment. Cortisol, often referred to as the stress hormone, and noradrenalin, flood the prefrontal cortex of the brain when you’re stressed. The prefrontal cortex controls working memory and is where new information is processed and retained. It’s important to recognize these cognitive symptoms early on because it’s recently been well documented that stress is an important contributing factor to the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
4. Your appetite has changed
When you’re stressed, the brain relays the stress signals to the gut, which changes up its routine to allow your body to focus on the stressor—leading to digestive problems and the composition of your gut bacteria. In addition, your adrenal glands release cortisol, which can actually increase appetite and prompt the body to put on deep-belly fat. If you find yourself either with a loss or increase of appetite, you could be experiencing chronic stress.
5. It’s hard for you to relax
The demands of daily life are intense and never-ending and that makes it really hard to unwind. Non-stop pressure to achieve physically interferes with the body’s relaxation mechanisms. If your body is in overdrive, increased heart rate makes it incredibly hard to relax. There are numerous methods out there to help you relax including meditation and yoga.
Our bodies are designed to handle small doses of stress and some can handle it better than others. While there are many symptoms of stress ranging from behavioral to cognitive, it’s important that you recognize them and seek help if it’s affecting your daily life.