The Effect of Stress on the Body – 23 Signs

In today’s world, it is almost impossible to avoid stress and most of us just accept it as a part of our day-to-day lives.  However, we need to start looking at it more seriously and realize the effect of stress on the body.

As I have outlined in many other articles I have written in my blog, numerous things affect our bodies like dehydration or lack of sleep.  But stress is just as dangerous when it comes to not only our physical health but also our mental and emotional health.

What is Stress Anyway?

You may be thinking it is the time your basement flooded, or when your child became ill, or even when you got laid off from your job last summer or an upcoming deadline at work.  These are merely situations that cause us to feel stress.

Stress is your body’s reaction to such situations as it perceives them as dangerous and wants to provide protection from those dangers.  The reality is most situations are not life or death but you do need some problem-solving skills to help you through.

I want you to sit way back in your chair right now.  Close your eyes and try to connect with your body. What is it trying to tell you? Do you have a headache? Is your jaw clenched? Are your shoulders up high and sore?

Our bodies are amazing machines but stress can impact them greatly and we need to pay attention to the signs we are being given.

Physical Signs of Stress

Generally, we are able to recognize the physical symptoms of stress.  Our bodies may not feel right so let’s take a look at how our physical selves are impacted.

#1. Chronic Fatigue

Are you constantly feeling tired, no matter how much sleep you get?  Stress can interrupt our sleeping patterns, creating insomnia, or just an inability to achieve REM sleep.  A lack of sleep leaves us feeling groggy but over time several health issues result from sleep deprivation and the effect of stress on the body becomes difficult to manage.

#2. Muscle Tension

Personally, I put all of my stress in my shoulders and neck and is the effect of stress on the body I feel daily.  I need to be conscious of my raised shoulders which cause pain. I often find it also results in headaches and can trigger migraines.

#3. Stomach Issues

In my younger days, I suffered from a multitude of stomach issues, even so much that I landed in the hospital a few times.  Constipation and diarrhea were always an issue no matter what I did. The doctors could not figure things out despite several different medical tests.

In the end, I figured out it was all because of some intense stress. The old saying, “Trust your gut” was so very true in my case.

#4. High or Low Blood Pressure

You may experience an increase or decrease in your blood pressure and neither case is good.  If you are experiencing chest pain, dizziness, or an increased heart rate, please see your physician right away.  This is the effect of stress that should never be ignored!

#5. Changes in Blood Sugar Levels

Often when we are stressed, our bodies cannot function properly.  One of these functions may be an inability to produce the right amount of insulin to control our blood sugar levels.

#6. Weight Loss or Gain

Stress often causes us to change our eating patterns and ultimately make poor eating choices.  We may either not be eating enough because of nausea or a general loss of appetite or perhaps overeating and this usually means choosing foods high in fat and sodium.

Gaining or losing a few pounds is not of concern. However, if there are drastic changes, especially in a short period of time – you need to be paying attention! Weight gain or loss can be the effect of stress on the body that can cause a multitude of other health issues.

#7. Lowered Immunity

Are you finding that you are getting sick more often?  Or that little common cold is lasting far longer than usual? This is your body’s way of telling you that it is stressed and needs to be taken care of and is unable able to fight off viruses as easily.  Reducing your stress and eating certain foods can strengthen that immunity.

#8. Skin Conditions

If you are suddenly breaking out in acne or developing rashes out of nowhere, pay attention!  Your system is struggling to regulate itself and sending you signs. Find ways to cope with the stress as well as pay attention to diets that can help you have a clearer complexion.

Long-term stress increases the risk of mental health problems

Emotional Signs of Stress

Our bodies react physically to stress but our emotional well-being is always impacted.  You may not notice these signs easily but I am sure your family and friends would be able to recognize the following changes within you.

#9. Moodiness and Agitation

Does the littlest thing set you off and make you angry? Do you find your moods are changing frequently, and sometimes without cause?

Often when a stressful situation arises, it feels like there are more such situations not far behind.  Consequently, you are easily irritated and something that would not normally bother you seems like a huge hurdle to overcome.

#10. Feeling Overwhelmed

When something that is difficult to handle occurs, many aspects of our lives are affected.  We tend to become overwhelmed with even the simplest of tasks and may find ourselves in a constant state of worry. Pay attention to this as it can be a warning sign of anxiety

My brain likes to play the “what if?” game.

  • What if I am late for my appointment?
  • What if dinner isn’t ready on time?
  • What if the laundry doesn’t get finished?
  • What if another unexpected expense comes up?

The questions go on and on, even though I have no control over any of it. I feel tense and constantly on edge, worrying about things that have not even happened and very well may never even occur!

#11. Cannot Relax

When someone is agitated, have you ever said, “Calm down and relax” to him/her?  I would love to hear how unsuccessful that went for you!

All kidding aside, stress keeps us in a perpetual state of restlessness. We cannot seem to relax no matter how hard we try, which often leads to a lack of sleep. 

#12. Feelings of Isolation and Loneliness

When major stressful situations arise and we are struggling to handle them as best as we can, we tend to get in our own heads and forget that there are others around us to help.  Feelings of isolation and even loneliness can occur. “No one will understand.” “I have no one to help me.” “I have to do this on my own.”

These types of thoughts are not only false but can be dangerous. They can lead to depression and when we are already stressed, we may even struggle even more to manage that depression.

There are always others out there that can help you.  Reach out and get help!

Cognitive Signs of Stress

There is no surprise that if our physical and emotional well-being are impacted by stress, so are our brains.  What we are capable of doing when we are dealing in a state of calmness can be greatly compromised when our stress levels rise.  It is often the effect of stress on the body that is overlooked.

#13. Difficulty Focusing and Concentrating

Several years ago, my father passed away unexpectedly.  When I returned to work, I expected to be able to perform at my usual high level of productivity.  The reality was that all the tasks put in front of me were taking 4-5 times longer than usual. I struggled to stay focused and could not concentrate for more than 10-15 minutes at a  time.

#14. Poor Short-term Memory

When we are faced with a multitude of stressful events, our brains can only handle so much.  As a result, our short-term memory is affected. We may begin to forget things more easily and are unable to recall something that happened just a short time ago. Try some of these techniques to improve your memory.

#15. Cannot Think Clearly

It may feel like your brain is going a mile a minute, yet you are not coming up with any useful ideas or solutions.  Our thoughts can be all over the place and can further our anxiety about the current situation and the effect of stress on the body can be intensified.

#16. Focusing on the Negative

When one bad thing happens, it seems that more horrible things follow.  This leads us to a state of anxiety that makes it extremely difficult to find the positive in anything at that time.  Take little steps to try to stay positive.

Behavioural Signs of Stress

Our physical bodies are affected by stress.  So is our emotional well being and our ability to think properly.  With all of that happening, our behaviour will also change.

#17. Sweet and Salty Cravings

As was mentioned before, you may begin to make unhealthy food choices.  Often because of changes in your blood sugar levels or a lack of proper vitamins or minerals, you may begin to have unusual cravings for sweet and salty foods.  Be careful of these choices. You may begin to experience high blood pressure, an increase in weight, or perhaps have to learn how to deal with diabetes.  Also, try some of these tips to control those sugar cravings.

#18. Isolating Oneself

When we are struggling, we tend not to want others to know about it out of shame or fear of judgment. Thus, we may find ourselves avoiding our friends and family and not engaging in social activities as much as we once did.

Social interaction is the key to dealing with stress.  We are social beings and need support to help us through difficult times.

#19. Avoiding Responsibilities

With an abundance of stress, comes a feeling of being overwhelmed.  Have you ever thought, “I am not sure I can handle it if even one more thing goes wrong”? Of course, you have – we all have!  We feel that we have so much on our plate that we cannot take on any more and even some of our usual responsibilities may be neglected.

#20. Using Alcohol, Drugs, or Tobacco to Relax

Stress makes us feel that we all wound up and cannot relax.  Many people turn to alcohol, drugs, or tobacco to regain that feeling of relaxation. Although an occasional drink or such may help you to unwind, be cognizant of how much and how often you are partaking. 

Are you unable to relax without the use of these substances? Do you find that as soon as you get home after a long day, you are automatically reaching for them?

This is when you must reevaluate why it is that you are using and if you developing an addiction issue. 

#21. Developing Nervous Habits

You may begin to unconsciously develop some nervous habits if you are overly stressed.  Perhaps you begin to bite your nails, twist your hair, tap your leg, or pace back and forth.

#22. Excessively Working or Exercising

An overload of stress can cause feelings of a lack of control in our lives.  Some individuals will begin to overdo things in an attempt to regain some control, somewhere. They may begin putting in extra hours at work or at the gym.

This may initially appear as they are functioning well but in all reality, they are trying to grasp at anything that will make them feel better. The stressful situation may not be handled at all.

#23. A Decrease in Sex Drive

We are stressed.  Our minds are overloaded. We are feeling irritable. and thoroughly exhausted.  More than likely, the last activity we want to participate in is sex.

This can lead to confusion and troubles in a relationship if the root cause of the stress is not handled well.

Additional Thoughts…

Stress.  It is going to happen, people!  And although there isn’t much you can do to avoid it, you can learn to recognize the effect of stress on the body so you can act accordingly.

Do not brush these signs of stress under the carpet – things will only escalate and inevitably, lead to further issues and guess what? More stress!

Please comment to let us know how you react to stress and what you do to deal with it!

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