Many of us in today’s society go through demanding experiences on a daily basis, whether it's grinding out hours at work, caring for a family, looking after loved ones or simply dealing with traffic as you try to drive to the grocery store. We can also become stressed when dealing with changes in our lives as we cope and adjust to different environments and situations.
Stress, to give a simple definition, is the brains reaction to demanding or draining experiences and it is something that every single person on this planet has to deal with in some way or another.
It can eventually impact your health and overall well-being, so to help see the symptoms here is a list of some signs to tell if you are over-stressed.
Excessive amounts of stress have been linked to hair loss in both men and women and can occur in three different ways.
The first is called Telogen Effluvium, where significant amounts of stress force the hair follicles into a “resting” phase with stunted growth. After a few months when the follicles become weakened, the hair may fall out while brushing or washing.
The second way, called Trichotillomania is when you develop the urge to pull hairs from your scalp, eyebrows or anywhere else when overly stressed. This can be similar to biting your nails and can become a very bad habit to get into.
The third way that stress may cause hair loss is called Alopecia Areata and comes from the immune system attacking the hair follicles. In extremely stressful conditions the immune system is known to either shutdown or misbehave, this being an example of the latter.
More commonly caused by sustained or chronic stress, depression has been linked to stress due to the chemical imbalances caused in the brain from an overexposure to a stressful environment.
Such environments have been shown to increase levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the brain whilst limiting the levels of serotonin, dopamine and other neurotransmission chemicals. Some people are more susceptible to becoming depressed from stress than others, however depression itself is a known source of stress and can maintain this unhealthy chemical balance in the brain, creating a vicious cycle.
If you suffer from stress related depression, it is very important to ask for help from a professional to get you out of the cycle.
Stress stimulates the central nervous system of the body, causing your adrenal glands to produce adrenaline for our “fight or flight” reactions. Normally, when the cause of that reaction disappears the brain would return to normal functioning, however when exposed to prolonged stress the brain may continue to produce both adrenaline and cortisol.
This over-stimulation of the brain can result in difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep and the quality of sleep. Many people just take sleeping pills or other medication, however it is recommended that you find what the cause of stress is and do something to provide yourself with a better environment.
12 Eating Disorders (too much or too little)
Many people (a significant proportion being women) have a negative relationship with food stemming from poor body image. This in turn creates stress on the body, but it works in the reverse as well.
Problematic eating disorders have been known to be coping mechanisms for adapting to stress. Perhaps you have noticed that when heavily stressed or nervous you either lose your appetite and don't eat or you begin to crave certain foods that taste good in order to get a feel good feeling to block out the stress.
Self medication is one of the most common ways people negatively deal with stress. It is more common in people who struggle to cope with stressful situations and so turn to substance abuse in order to momentarily escape the situation or emotions they are experiencing.
When we say drug addiction, more serious substances come to mind such as amphetamines and cocaine, but remember that alcohol and tobacco produce very strong addictions as well, albeit more socially acceptable.
When you say or hear someone say “I need a smoke/drink”, what they are meaning a lot of the time is “I'm stressed and need to escape it for a short time”. Relying on a substance will only push the stress to the side and let it build up to dangerous levels.
10 Heart Burn, Acid Reflux or Stomach Ulcers
The rush of adrenaline and other hormones naturally causes rapid breathing and a raised heart rate, however exposure to chronic stress where these symptoms don't dissipate can have consequences on the digestive system.
Because of this you are much more likely to suffer from heart burn and acid reflux when under chronic stress. It is worth noting as well that while stress doesn't cause stomach ulcers (they are caused by a bacterium called H. Pylori), it can be responsible for making existing ones flare up in the presence of excess hormones.
Stress and hormonal imbalances within your body can influence the ways in which your digestive system functions. This is because when your body enters into the “fight or flight” mentality from a stressful situation, it tends to re-prioritize bodily functions, readying itself for a dangerous situation.
When this happens, digestion is dramatically slowed down and when the stress is a chronic factor in the individuals environment, constipation tends to be the end result. Try to go on a constipation diet and see a doctor to help get things moving.
8 Tight Muscles / Inability to Relax The Body
Again, when your body enters the “fight or flight” mode, pumping cortisol and adrenaline through your system, your muscles become affected.
Another side effect of a hormonal imbalance in the brain caused by stress is the inability to release tension from muscles. This may not only cause cramps and spasms which can be uncomfortable to painful, but can also cause body pains, posture problems and tension headaches.
7 Changes To The Reproductive System
This point is one that effects men and women in different ways (of course).
In women, the menstrual cycle can become altered with exposure to constant stress. You could have irregular or even no menstruation, or heavier and more painful periods. The symptoms of menopause are also magnified when exposed to constant stress and can also lead to infertility in extreme cases.
In Men they may begin producing too much testosterone, leading to an increase in sexual arousal in the short term, however that's not something to celebrate. Long term effects can be a lowered production of testosterone, bad sperm production and erectile dysfunction.
6 Inhibited Immune System
When the brain regularly produces cortisol (yes there is that word again) in the instance of continued, sustained stress, it can damage the immune system in two ways.
The first is when cortisol accumulates and acts as an anti-inflammatory within the body during times of stress. The body develops a resistance to it after a while, and instead of behaving normally it decides to increase the production of pro-inflammation substances called cytokines. This can leave the body in a prolonged state of inflammation, leading to more serious health problems.
The second effect is that during stressful times, proteins essential for the function of immune cells are not produced. The body can become more susceptible to illness and also take a lot longer to recover.
5 Social Withdrawal
There are a wide range of reasons as to why someone may become socially withdrawn, and one of those reasons is stress and anxiety.
Many people who deal with stress on a daily basis feel the need to be alone, using social withdrawal as a coping mechanism. Whether they become stressed from simply being around people or from particular scenarios they want to distance themselves from, social withdrawal can actually increase stressful and anxious feelings.
When you are on your own, you can become lost in your thoughts, especially when feeling down. It can actually be better for you to see some friends and socialize, preventing yourself from withdrawing into your own thoughts and mind.
4 High Blood Pressure
Stress hormones that flood the body can cause your blood vessels to constrict, raising your blood pressure. All that helps get oxygen to your brain and heart so you’ll have more strength and energy to take action, and is a natural part of the “fight or flight” response..
Frequent or chronic stress makes your heart work too hard for too long, raising your risk of hypertension and problems with your blood vessels and heart. You’re at higher risk of having a stroke or heart attack.
The female hormone estrogen offers pre-menopausal women some protection from stress-related heart disease.
When in an over-stressed condition, your whole body goes into a kind of survival mode. Heart rate increases in an effort to provide extra oxygen to the brain and body, and as a result your respiration increases too.
This survival mode can be even more difficult for anyone suffering from asthma, as the increased hormone levels and respiration rate creates additional demands on the lungs, in turn possibly causing asthma attacks more frequently then usual.
In particular, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) has been found in multiple studies to either have begun after a stressful or traumatizing event but to also worsen when the sufferer becomes abnormally stressed, showing a correlation between the two.
While it is unknown exactly which process in the body causes this, many scientists believe that it is an adverse effect of hormones such as cortisol being prevalent in the body. If you have just suffered from a serious life event such as a car crash or losing a loved one and you feel the onset effects of arthritis, it may be caused from stress rather then directly physical factors.
1 Skin Conditions
Another hormone named glucocorticoid has been found to become prevalent in times of stress and is known to be a cause in skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
In stressful environments, scientists found that the growth of skin cells becomes inhibited, leading to a build up of both dead and damaged skin cells which in combination with hormone imbalances leads to these skin conditions.
They are still working on ways of blocking this hormone in the body to prevent these conditions arising from stress, however it is better to diagnose the cause of the stress and improve your emotional environment to get to the root of this problem.