How Does Stress Show Up In Your Body?
Diwali holidays are about to begin. You’ve been looking forward to them for you’ve been working overtime to get projects done in time. At the same time, you are trying to find a time that you can spend with your family and attend family gatherings. You remember that you still have a lot of festival shopping left to do when you get a call about impromptu meetings lined up with new deadlines. It is then you realize that your outfits for your best friend's upcoming wedding aren’t ready yet. You throw your hands up in defeat, frustrated about how to devote your time to these seemingly endless responsibilities.
Finding yourself in situations like these is never easy. These instances make you feel as though the twenty-four hours of the day are also too little for you to tick everything off your to-do list. Not many people can withstand this kind of intense stress and pressure for very long, and it soon results in burnout. However, what is important to note is that this situation is not uncommon. While these stressors may look different for everyone, almost all of us have hit rock bottom at least once wherein we have felt that we have too many duties to juggle. At such times when we feel as though we have too much on our plate, one thing that is commonly seen across the spectrum is the stress manifesting in our body.
Not all kind of stress is bad or hampers functioning. In fact, research has found that “eustress” or positive stress can actually be quite motivating for many. Eustress is known to build mental strength and resilience and can be an encouraging factor for people to reach their goals. A few examples of when we experience eustress in daily life include learning something new, trying out a new workout regimen, or even moving into a new house. This type of stress does not exceed our coping mechanisms and can be energizing. On the contrary, distress can be rather unpleasant, often causing feelings of worry and anxiety. It usually occurs when a negative situation exceeds our coping resources and can result in decreased overall performance as well as low energy. This kind of stress is unhealthy and can even lead to physical and emotional disturbances. Examples of distress can include being fired at work, dealing with financial issues, or battling an illness.
There are several ways that unhealthy stress can show up in our bodies. One of the most prevalent bodily symptoms is the weakening of the immune system. Prolonged stress that exceeds the body’s coping resources can prove to be very harmful over time. Even though stress enables us to deal with immediate dangers in our environment, if it is continued for a long period of time, it reduces the ability of the body to fight infection which is why you are more susceptible to diseases and illnesses when you are stressed.
A quick way to know if you are feeling tensed is to check if your jaw is tightly clenched. People who are stressed often have tensed muscles around their jaw, shoulders, and neck which can lead to frequent headaches and body aches which can become very frustrating to deal with after some time. Over time, most of the muscles of your body can become very stiff and numb, causing you to rely on pain medication or physical therapy to release the tension in your tendons.
The one system in the body that is massively impacted by stress is the digestive system. Gastrointestinal issues are a regular occurrence in people who are stressed, as your gut health can take a hit. Blood and oxygen flow to the stomach is reduced which can result in cramping, inflammation, constipation, diarrhea, a loss of appetite, and bloating, to name a few.
In addition to all of this, perpetual stress can be instrumental in triggering heart attacks, sleep disturbances, and insomnia, blood pressure problems, premature aging, hair loss, as well as sexual dysfunctions.
Stress can even have adverse effects on your mental health. When we are overwhelmed, it can commonly result in irritability, with anger outbursts for even negligible reasons. Anxiety and restlessness are also seen on many occasions and it can prevent you from being focused as well. In some cases, it can also lead to depression.
The primary reason that physical ailments due to stress often go amiss is that we never actually believe that stress can cause such effects. Stress affects our lives in more ways than we can imagine, physically, mentally, and emotionally, but we often attribute stress-related physical symptoms to other factors as it isn’t tangible. Our mental health is very closely tied to our physical health, and somatic concerns due to stress are just another reminder of that. Even though we cannot ever entirely get rid of stress, the way we manage and handle it can greatly impact our overall health and well- being.