Everyone’s stressed. Is no big deal! Because it’s so common, you might think that if you’re not lying on the floor from exhaustion, you’re probably fine. But stress has an insidious way of creeping up on you, and it’s not just a mental or emotional issue —stress symptoms can impact the body in some very visible (and bizarre) ways.
The best ways to reduce your overall stress is to get enough sleep (seven to nine hours a night for most people), eat healthful food, exercise, reach out to supportive pals, and focus on things within your control.
You can also learn to read your body and recognise the not-so-obvious signs that you’re overstressed before it all snowballs into a long-term health condition. Keep an eye out for these red flags.
The brain’s nervous system is linked to the gut’s, so mental stress can wreak havoc on your GI tract, says Bincy Abraham, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Baylor College of Medicine. Depending on your situation, your doctor may treat your tummy troubles with over-the-counter drugs (stool softeners), prescriptions (such as anti-nausea meds), or dietary changes (fibre can restore your gut’s stress-ravaged helpful bacteria).
In the meantime, the best natural remedy for stress-caused constipation, diarrhoea, nausea, or vomiting is exercise. It may sound like the last thing you want to do when your stomach is aching, but heading out for a run can boost endorphins that make the mind and gut feel better.
Roughly three to six months after a majorly stressful event, like getting axed from a job or ending a big relationship, you might notice more hair on your brush or in the drain than usual (shedding around 100 strands a day is normal). Super-high levels of sex hormones called androgens, which zoom up during stress, could mess with hair follicles to prompt temporary hair loss, says Roberta Sengelmann, M.D., a dermatologist in Santa Barbara, California.
There’s no one food or supplement that’s proven to restore your locks, but eating a balanced diet can help cell growth and healing.
Just like your hair, your skin is sensitive to those higher-than-normal androgens, which can bring on breakouts, says Sengelmann. Talk to your dermatologist if your zits keep coming back — the chronic inflammation can lead to scarring. (As hard as it is, resist the urge to pop the suckers, which only adds to the inflammation. And you’re more likely to end up with scarring when you’re stressed and your body’s ability to heal isn’t at its peak.)
The hormones your body pumps out when you’re stressed produce a fight-or-flight response, which — along with raising your blood pressure and heart rate — tightens up your muscles. “If you’re trying to outrun a predator, that’s good,” says Joanne Borg-Stein, M.D., of Harvard’s Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. “But if it’s all the time, that sort of chronic stress response can lead to pain.” Plus, muscle aches are par for the course if you’re hunched over at your desk all day worrying about deadlines.
Movement is the best remedy; so if your back is in knots, stand up every hour and do some stretches, such as reaching your arms over your head, touching your toes, and rolling your neck and shoulders. Also, try to get in a 10- to 15-minute walk around the office or outside once or twice a day.
Stress can bring on mysterious rashes or flare-ups of pre-existing conditions. That’s because it can throw your immune system — not to mention your skin’s defenses — out of whack. When these are lowered, you could become susceptible to rash-causing skin infections caused by staph. On the flip side, if your immunity goes into overdrive, your skin will become more sensitive, making a dormant issue like eczema act up.