We face stress in our everyday lives. While some stress can be beneficial to help us focus on solving a problem, prolonged stress may have serious health implications. We may not notice it immediately, but stress can take a toll on our physical health. Here are some physical responses and signs that we may experience in our body as an effect of prolonged stress.
When you are going through a particularly stressful event or period, you may have experienced “butterflies” in the stomach or maybe even feel that your stomach is tied in knots. This could be due to the stress that you are going through rather than something you ate. When we are stressed, hormones and chemicals released by your body that were supposed to help take on this stressful event may enter the gastrointestinal tract and interfere with digestion. As a result, you may experience diarrhoea, constipation, stomach cramps, or nausea due to the chemical imbalance in the gut.
A tension headache can be distinguished by several symptoms such as pressure that feels like a band around the head, tenderness of the scalp, and the pain is usually a dull aching head pain. Stress is believed to be the most common trigger for tension headaches and it could be due to a heightened sensitivity to pain when one is stressed.
People in particularly stressful jobs may experience weight gain over time. The hormone, cortisol is produced by the body when it is under stress. Normally, this is useful in a physical “fight-or-flight” situation as cortisol metabolises fat and carbohydrates, creating energy which is essential anticipated physical activity. However, this process also increases your appetite and can cause you to overload on sweet and fatty foods. Additionally, when your body is busy producing cortisol, it produces less testosterone and may cause a decrease in muscle mass. As a result, your body burns fewer calories, leading to weight gain.
Stress is a common cause of acne outbreak. When cortisol is produced by the body during stressful periods, it causes the skin to increase in oil production, which can lead to oily skin, setting the stage for an acne outbreak. If you have existing skin problems such as psoriasis, rosacea, or hives, stress may aggravate these conditions too.
Physical aches and pains
Studies have shown that chronic aches and pains may be associated with higher levels of stress and cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. Your body’s muscles tend to tense up when you are stressed. This reflex action is the body’s way of guarding against injury. When the stress passes, the muscles then relax. However, when undergoing a prolonged period of stress, the muscles are unable to release this tension and may lead to body aches and pains. These aches and pains caused by stress are especially common in the shoulders, back and neck.
What can you do
Set aside time blocks in the week to doing something that you enjoy, be it a hobby, physical activity, or journaling etc. At first, it may seem counterintuitive to not spend every waking hour on tackling the cause of the stress. However, taking a step back when you’re feeling stuck can give you the much needed space to process your thoughts, and come back to the problem with fresher perspectives. Learn more practical tips to relieve stress here.
If the stress feels too much to manage on your own, speak to any one of our certified psychologists or counsellors.