Stress affects us all. It can be mild for one person and severe for another. Its impact is so strong that prolonged stress can take a heavy toll on our physical, mental and emotional health. However, identifying the stressors in your life can help reduce their harmful effects. Know the signs and symptoms of stress to manage it better for a healthier and happier life.
On World Mental Health Day 2023, Health Shots reaches out to Dr. Manjusha Agarwal, Senior Consultant-Internal Medicine, Global Hospitals, Parel Mumbai, to know how to identify stress.
Common symptoms of stress
Here are 8 common signs and symptoms of stress to be aware of:
If you notice an increase in headaches and migraine attacks, know that this is one of the most obvious signs of stress, says Dr. Agarwal. According to studies from the National Library of Medicine, migraine sufferers report significant levels of stress, especially those who suffer from chronic stress. These headaches can range from mild discomfort to severe pain and can be an ongoing problem. To cope, try to get enough sleep and rest and make sure you stay hydrated.
2. Sleep problems
Stress and your sleep cycle are closely linked. It can negatively affect your sleep quality, leading to insomnia or poor quality sleep. Stress can increase the risk of anxiety, negative thoughts and worries, making it difficult to fall asleep. Both stress and poor sleep quality can cause mental and physical health problems. To improve your sleep cycle, go to bed on time, practice meditation before going to bed, and limit screen exposure before going to sleep.
Also read: World Mental Health Day: 5 Daily Habits to Improve Your Mental Health
3. Skin rash
No matter how well you take care of your skin, stress, especially chronic stress, can negatively affect it. This is your body’s way of telling you that it is overwhelmed and needs a break. When you are under stress, the body’s sympathetic nervous system releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline into your body. These hormones increase the production of skin glands, leading to clogged pores and acne. In addition, stress takes its toll on your immune system, causing skin problems to increase. Follow a good skin care routine, eat healthy and practice meditation to reduce stress.
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4. Digestive problems
There is a strong connection between your gut and brain, and stress can significantly affect your digestive system. Symptoms such as abdominal pain, digestive problems, diarrhea or constipation can be caused by high levels of stress. To manage stress, stay hydrated, practice meditation, or seek professional help if necessary.
5. Mood swings
“Do you feel like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster? Stress has the power to turn even the most calm individual into an emotional wreck. If you find yourself crying at the drop of a hat, experiencing sudden mood swings, or feeling overwhelmed with emotions, remember that these emotional outbursts could be the result of underlying stress,” says Dr. Agarwal. To manage your mood, follow a healthy exercise routine, stay calm, and do whatever you want to stay relaxed.
6. High blood pressure
Chronic stress is a major contributor to heart health problems or high blood pressure. It activates the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, causing heart rate and blood pressure to increase. If your blood pressure is consistently high, see your doctor for appropriate treatment. To prevent high blood pressure caused by stress, follow a regular exercise routine, eat a healthy diet, and meditate.
“People have times when they forget things or have trouble concentrating, but if it becomes a recurring problem it could be due to high stress levels. When the mind is preoccupied with worries and anxiety, it becomes more difficult to focus on tasks and retain information effectively,” explains Dr. Agarwal.
8. Low libido
Stress can have a significant impact on your sexual health, often leading to a decreased libido. Stress causes a hormonal imbalance, which can affect your mood and make you less interested in sex life. You may even feel less happy and find it difficult to communicate with your partner. Open communication with your partner and stress-reducing techniques can help you address this problem and improve intimacy.
9. Aches and pains
Muscle tension and body pain are physical symptoms of stress. You may feel the pain, especially around the head, neck, shoulder and back. Regular exercise, stretching and massages can help relieve these physical symptoms of stress.
10. Change in appetite
Stress can even cause changes in your appetite. Some people may overeat as a coping mechanism, leading to weight gain, while others may lose their appetite, resulting in weight loss. Be aware of your eating habits and make sure you don’t eat too much or eat less. Follow a balanced diet to stabilize your stress levels.
In addition to these symptoms of stress, you may also experience panic attacks, chest pain or a feeling as if your heart is racing, feeling guilty, helpless or hopeless, loneliness, agitation, anger, feeling like crying, not being able to breathe, blurred vision or sore eyes, low energy and nausea. Dr. Agarwal says, “Remember that recognizing the signs of stress in our lives is crucial to maintaining our overall well-being.”