You’ve been experiencing physical symptoms like headaches, back pain, upset stomach, and trouble sleeping. You visit your doctor, thinking you may be coming down with something, but she doesn’t find anything physically wrong. So how come you feel extremely lousy? Upon further conversation, your doctor asks, “Are you under any stress?” You think about her question. Is she really suggesting these are physical symptoms of stress?
You share with her that you love the kids’ new school, but you’re constantly carpooling them to different after-school activities. Your mom fell and broke her ankle, so you’ve been picking up extra chores for her. You mention you’re having a tough time meshing well with your new boss, and — oh, yeah — your husband is about to leave for a six-month deployment.
The doctor listens with an empathetic ear, then proposes your sudden physical ailments may actually be physical symptoms of stress. You realize you have certainly been experiencing stressful emotional events as of late.
Symptoms of stress can often imitate physical problems. That headache and stomachache you’ve been experiencing for the past two months — the common denominator could quite possibly be stress.
Below is a list of the most common effects of stress on your body, thoughts and feelings, and behavior, as referenced by The Mayo Clinic.
Effects of Stress on your Body
- Chest pain
- Pounding heart
- High blood pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle aches
- Back pain
- Clenched jaw or teeth grinding
- Upset stomach — in the form of constipation or diarrhea
- Increased sweating
- Tiredness or sleep problems
- Weight gain or loss
- Sex problems
- Skin breakouts
Effects of Stress on your Thoughts and Feelings
- Mood swings
- Job dissatisfaction
- Inability to concentrate
- Seeing only the negatives
Effects of Stress on your Behavior
- Overeating or undereating
- Angry outbursts
- Substance abuse — drugs, food, excessive drinking, increased smoking
- Social withdrawal
- Crying spells
- Relationship conflicts
- Decreased productivity
- Blaming others
When you are experiencing stress, your body releases a steroid hormone called cortisol (also known as the “stress hormone”) in your body, which causes inflammation, an increase in heart rate, and narrowing of your blood vessels. Some experts say all of these things may cause your body to feel pain. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, it may be due to stress.
Ways to Manage Stress
Drinking lots of water and getting adequate sleep are the first things you should address when trying to decrease the physical symptoms of stress. Then, make sure you are eating healthy foods and exercising regularly.
Know When it’s Time to See a Doctor
Recognizing the difference between feeling temporarily down because of situational circumstances, and something more chronic and persistent, like depression or a mental illness, is essential. If stress is affecting you physically and isn’t improving, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss further treatment so you can get back to feeling better both emotionally and physically.
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