We’re all under a constant state of varying levels of stress. That’s not necessarily negative, though, since stress isn’t inherently bad. There’s a good kind of stress which serves to motivate. Stress never really goes away. Instead, we learn how to deal with it effectively through different stress management methods.
Still, the demands of responsibility can put such a strain on us that the ways we manage stress might not be enough to protect us from its harmful effects. There’s little point in going to the fitness gym every other day to work out but neglecting your own mental health.
There come instances when we don’t even realize how stressed we are until it has negatively affected our health and relationships. For some, it even escalates to the development of psychological disorders, which is another cause of stress on its own.
Simply put, stress is something we should be monitoring in our lives.
While being productive members of society is essential, so is taking care of our well-being. Knowing the hidden signs of stress is key to identifying when we have been pushing ourselves too far. It provides hints as to when it is time for us to cut ourselves some slack and take a few days off.
Today, Evolve Daily lists down seven hidden signs of stress that you should watch out for.
1) Lack of concentration
Some people find that they perform best when they are chasing deadlines by a hair. This, however, can be explained by the presence of two hormones brought about by increasing levels of stress.
High-pressure situations cause the body to release two stress hormones, particularly adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline, in particular, may cause difficulty concentrating during non-pressure situations.
Adrenaline is known to engage the brain, help it focus, and equip it to be more effective in completing cognitive tasks, especially with a time crunch. However, consistently high levels of adrenaline impair your ability to concentrate overall.
It can be said that an adrenaline-induced boost in productivity can be beneficial, but it’s like running a sprint. It’s not sustainable over the long run. If you find yourself having trouble concentrating during slower and calmer periods, it’s a sign that you might be too stressed during your high-pressure situations.
Have you ever noticed yourself going back and forth between places because you kept leaving something behind? Have you ever misplaced your car keys when you were just holding them or lost your phone inside your own house?
Stress is notorious for impairing concentration to the point of forgetfulness. It’s usually brushed away as clumsiness or an innate lack of attention to detail. More than just having a cluttered mind, however, your forgetfulness could be due to a stress-induced lack of staying focused.
Details may have a difficult time registering in your brain, which leads to the feeling of forgetfulness. The more stressed you are, the easier it is to overlook the fine print.
3) Changes in eating habits
Stress can throw a monkey wrench into your diet and nutrition plans, and wreak havoc on your eating habits. In fact, stress eating is a real problem, and the more frequently you are stressed, the more stress-eating triggers you have to deal with.
There are two ways stress messes around with your eating habits. You are either the type to eat more when you’re stressed, or the type to not even look at food at all.
Those who do like to binge on junk food when they are stressed usually view eating as an escape to distract themselves from the problems at hand. Conversely, those who can’t even think about eating when stressed are the type who wants to get through whatever they are dealing with so they can move on to something else.
There is a hormonal facet to stress-eating as well. Stress eaters usually have to deal with increased glucose metabolism caused by cortisol, which rapidly depletes available blood glucose which sends signals to the brain that it’s time to eat, and eat a lot. Unfortunately, the brain then sends out hunger cues for sugary and fatty food, which is why we crave junk whenever we’re stressed.
4) Digestive problems
Further to altering your eating habits, stress can cause a wide range of problems for your digestive system too. Stressful situations can trigger bodily sensations, particularly in the gut. Pain becomes more prominent, and discomfort easier to feel. The effects of stress on the digestive system include bloating due to altered gas production, painful bowel spasms, constipation, and diarrhea due to altered gut transit.
The more stressed you are, the more you can feel it in your gut, which can sometimes result in loose bowel syndrome.
5) Menstrual symptoms
Women commonly experience pain with their periods due to muscle cramps, and stress worsens these cramps through some unknown mechanism.
Stress can magnify normal period cramps to severely debilitating ones that leave you curled up on the bed even after a round of over-the-counter painkillers. The other scenario is that stress may halt your period altogether, causing you to miss a cycle.
Given the heightened state of stress, with cortisol and adrenaline constantly up, the body recognizes that it is not in an environment conducive to reproduction and thus does not ovulate. Women trying to conceive may find it extra challenging when they are stressed.
6) Muscle pain
Have you ever woken up feeling tired and not well-rested, even if you’ve had enough time to sleep? You get up and your back is killing you, and taking a trip to the bathroom is like stepping into the ring with Mike Tyson. It’s painful.
The increased production of stress hormones keeps muscles tense, tightening them over time. This can result in aches and pains around the jaw, and if you’re seated most of the day, in the lower back.
Other common problems include jaw clenching, as well as sleep apnea. Because your muscles in the face and throat become tense, it impairs your natural airflow, causing you to snore and sometimes even grind your teeth.
7) Changes in sleeping pattern
Last but not least, stress destroys your sleep and wake patterns, causing you to go to bed at different times of the day. It alters your Circadian rhythm. You wake up constantly in the middle of the night, and sometimes have restless nights trying to win the battle of sleep.
This ends up in you either sleeping too much or too little.
The brain processes unresolved sources of stress when more urgent distractions (e.g., work or academics) are not very critical anymore. Right before you sleep is the worst time to think about your stressors, which is a big reason for insomnia. It is also why if you don’t get insomnia, these concerns make themselves known in disturbing dreams instead.
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