If you’ve ever gotten a headache after a particularly stressful day at work, then you know exactly what I mean. Deal with too much and your bod will be flooded with stress hormones, which create a sort of chain reaction.
As Dr. Nikki Martinez says, “Stress leads to physical symptoms because it is your body’s way of letting stress out, instead of shoving it down. [Your] body literally cannot manage the amount of stress it is under, and it starts to come out in visible and physical symptoms.” Cue the aforementioned headache, or shakiness, or sweaty armpits. (You get the idea.)
While short-term stress can cause these symptoms, it’s the long-term stuff you really have to worry about. “Long term stress can lead to to heart issues, breathing issues, and it can increase the symptoms of existing underlying health issues,” Martinez adds. Getting things under control — either by removing stressors, or learning how to cope with them — is a great place to start. Read on for some signs it may be time to do just that.
1. YOUR SKIN IS BREAKING OUT
During a bout of stress, it’s not uncommon to wake up with a few more zits than usual. This is all thanks to the stress hormone cortisol, and its pesky habit of clogging pores, dermatologist Dhaval G. Bhanusali, MD, tells me. Of course, breakouts can be caused by other things — your diet, PMS, the weather, etc. But if you’ve been feeling extra stressed as of late, then don’t be surprised when it starts to show on your skin.
2. YOU KEEP TURNING RED
Ever start sweating at your desk during a busy day, despite the fact you haven’t moved in hours? If you add pink cheeks to the mix, then it may be stress-induced flushing. “It has to do with increased heart rate, respiration, perspiration, and stress,” Martinez says. “This will turn you bright red because the body is not operating at a level of homeostasis, where it is able to cool itself.” (Yikes.)
3. YOU FEEL TIRED ALL THE TIME
Feeling exhausted after a busy day is one thing. But feeling tired all the damn time, and for no reason at all? Well, that’s something else entirely. This form of unexplained sleepiness may be a sign of adrenal fatigue, which occurs when your adrenal glands become overtaxed with cortisol, Dr. Stephen Wander tells me. The constant stress can cause you to feel worn out, even when you really shouldn’t be that tired.
4. YOUR HAIR IS STARTING TO SHED
When stress levels become too much, it’s pretty common for your hair to peace on out. You might notice a bit more shedding, say, when you take a shower. Or, you might experience a more severe form of hair loss called telogen effluvium, Bhanuasli tells me. This can cause noticeably thinner hair all over your scalp. But don’t worry — it can all grow back once you deal with your stress.
5. YOUR BLOOD SUGAR FEELS LOW
High stress levels can start to affect your blood sugar, leaving you shaky and weak and in dire need of a snack. This awful feeling is usually the result of elevated nighttime or early morning cortisol levels, which can be associated with strong emotional responses, Wander tells me. In other words, if you feel low blood sugar-y, it may be due to all the stressful chaos that’s going on in your life.
6. YOU HAVE A CASE OF THE SHAKES
Hand trembling is another physical sign of too much stress, Martinez tells me. So take note if you go to reach for your phone and notice your fingers are trembling. This is due to the pent up stress in your body escaping in the form of jitteriness.
7. YOU’VE EXPERIENCED A FAINTING SPELL
I know a “fainting spell” sounds like something that only happens in period dramas, but they can and do occur. The scientific term is “syncope,” Martinez tells me, and it happens when blood pressure drops. Stress is tied in here, so don’t be surprised when too much of it leaves you feeling woozy.
8. YOU FEEL ACHEY AND SORE
If you think about how you hold your body when you’re stressed — raised shoulders, clenched jaw, stiff back — then it makes total sense why soreness can occur. This is especially true if you internalize all your stress, Dr. Scott Schreiber tells me. When you do, it can lead to tension headaches and pain in other parts of your body. And, in some cases, may even be a contributing factor for fibromyalgia.
9. YOU LOOK A LITTLE WORN OUT
I think we can all agree everyone looks better when they’re relaxed. So, of course, the opposite is true, too. If you’ve been hella stressed, it can start to show up on your face in the form of haggardness and wrinkles. This is due to increased inflammation and free radical production, Schreiber tells me, which “exacerbate the aging process.” (Not cool, stress. Not cool.)
10. YOU KEEP CATCHING COLDS
Stress has a way of wearing you down until all your body’s defenses are compromised. This leaves the proverbial door wide open for germs to stroll on in, which is why stressed out folks tend to catch colds more easily. As Dr. Carolyn Dean says in an email to Bustle, “Your resiliency, energy, endurance and your quality of life all depend on your adrenals to properly function.” Reduce your stress, and you should be better able to survive cold season.
11. YOUR JAW HAS SEEN BETTER DAYS
If you’re clenching up due to stress, then your back, neck, and shoulders will most definitely feel sore. But it can also affect your jaw, too. “Stress can manifest itself in the form of clenching or grinding (bruxing) your teeth,” says cosmetic dentist Mark Helm, DDS, in an email to Bustle. Besides ruining your dental health, clenching can lead to jaw pain. And that’s no fun at all.
And neither are any of these other symptoms. If you think stress is wrecking your body, then make it a point to get things under control. Remove yourself from toxic situations, plan some stress-reducing activities into your day, and remember to take care of yourself. Hopefully you’ll be able to relax before your stress-related symptoms get out of hand.