Stress is a state of emotional or mental strain caused by severe circumstances. It is a natural feeling that people get in response to things happening or changing around them, most of which they can’t explain or have no control over.
While sometimes stress is supposed to give your body fight-or-flight responses, most times it makes people feel low. Everybody has to deal with stress related to work, relationships, or financial hardships at one point in life.
According to one recent study, 33% of adults experience high levels of stress. Stress causes a lot of mental and physical symptoms. However, some of the most common ones include;
This is one of the most common symptoms of stress, according to many studies. Headaches related to stress are characterized by pain in the neck region or at the back of the head. Studies have shown that stress increases the occurrence and intensity of headaches that people experience.
One study that included 267 people suffering from chronic headaches indicated that stressful events preceded the occurrence of chronic headaches in around 45% of the people. Another more extensive study indicated that higher stress intensities lead to more headaches than people experience in a month.
Researchers also conducted another study on 150 military service members, which found that around 67% of the participants suffered from chronic headaches triggered by stress. That made stress the second most common trigger for headaches.
2. Rapid heartbeat and increased breathing
When you are stressed, the muscles in your breathing system tense up, which leaves you short of breath. That results in you breathing faster and heavier. Your heart also beats faster and harder to supply blood to your vital organs and muscles.
That happens due to the flight-or-fright body response to stress, which prepares your body to react to the stressful situation. The stress hormones also tighten your blood vessels, raising your blood pressure. These increase your chances of getting a heart attack over time.
In one study, researchers exposed 87 students to stressful tasks and found that it increased their blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing. However, playing slow relaxing music helped reverse those effects.
Insomnia is another common symptom of chronic stress. If you are stressed, it could be challenging to fall asleep or remain in a deep sleep for a long time. It could be so severe that it interferes with your daily activities.
When you are stressed, your hypothalamus signals the pituitary gland to release more hormones. Those hormones trigger the adrenal glands to produce more steroid hormones known as glucocorticoids. Two of those hormones are adrenaline and cortisol, which are stress hormones.
The increased cortisol levels cause you to be alert during stressful moments, interfering with your sleep pattern.
One study indicated that high work-related stress levels caused restlessness and increased sleepiness during bedtime. Another study of 2,316 participants indicated that people experiencing high-stress levels had a higher risk of insomnia than those without stress or low-stress levels.
Another reason why you have trouble sleeping during stressful situations is tensed muscles.
4. Reduced energy levels
One way that stress reduces your energy levels is by interacting with your sleep pattern. If you don’t get a lot of sleep, your energy levels the following day will be low. Stress also causes a depletion of nutrients that help you produce more energy, like magnesium and B vitamins.
Under stress, the liver produces extra blood sugar or glucose to boost your energy levels. However, under chronic and prolonged stress, the liver might be unable to keep up with glucose production, which reduces your energy levels.
The body also releases many hormones under stress, and that hormone rash could leave you feeling fatigued and with low energy levels.
5. Changes in appetite
Stress causes different changes in appetite in different people. Some people experience low appetite levels, while others have increased appetite and cravings.
When you experience high-stress levels, the body’s flight-or-fright response is activated, preparing the body to react physically to the stress. It also causes the production of many hormones, one being the corticotropin-releasing factor, which affects your digestive system and lowers your appetite.
Stress increases cortisol levels in the body, which increases the speed at which your body digests food. That could lead to an increased appetite and a craving for sugary, fatty, or salty foods.
Over time, these changes in appetite could cause drastic weight changes like obesity or chronic weight loss, which could eventually cause serious health issues.
In one study, researchers found out that 81% of college students experienced changes in their appetite because of stress. 38% of them had a decreased appetite, while 62% experienced an increased appetite.
Another study, including 129 people, indicated that some people experienced different behaviors like eating when they were not hungry.
This is one of the most visible physical ways in which stress manifests. When people experience too much stress, they touch their faces more often. That results in increased bacteria transfer to the face, which increases the chances and severity of acne.
Researchers have conducted several studies that have indicated that stress increases the chances of people getting acne and its intensity.
One study to measure acne severity took place before and during exams. It showed that the increased stress levels from the exam contributed to severe acne among the participants.
7. Chronic body pains
Apart from headaches, stress has also been shown to contribute to chronic pains in other parts of the body, like the back and joints. One of the main reasons is that stress causes muscle tensions throughout the body.
Other studies have shown that the stress hormone, cortisol, increases the occurrence and severity of chronic pains around the body.
One study compared 16 people suffering from chronic back pain to other people in a control group. The study indicated that the people who had chronic back pain had higher cortisol levels than those in the control group.
Another study indicated that people who had chronic pain in their back and other body parts had high cortisol levels in the hair, indicating prolonged stress.
8. Changes in libido
High-stress levels result in less sexual arousal, desire, and satisfaction. One reason is that stress causes you to have a frazzled and busy mind. That, in turn, acts as a distraction that prevents you from wanting sex or being absent-minded during sex.
Stress also results in a higher level of cortisol and epinephrine, the stress hormones, which interfere with sexual hormones. When you face chronic and prolonged stress levels, the body utilizes your sex hormone to meet your increased demand for more cortisol production.
When under stress, the body experiences a flight-or-fright response, which causes increased breathing and heart rate. That suppresses other body functions like sex drive.
One study involving 30 women measured their arousal levels as they watched an erotic movie. Those that had high-stress levels had less arousal than those with low or no levels of stress.
Another study involving 103 women indicated that women with high-stress levels had lower sexual activities and satisfaction.
9. Frequent sickness
Stress affects the immune system, making you more vulnerable to infections. If you appear to be constantly dealing with a cold or flu, stress could be the reason. Studies have indicated that stress leaves you more vulnerable to upper respiratory infections and could also cause more severe symptoms for a longer time.
One study involved injecting 61 older adults with the flu vaccine. Those with chronic stress had a weak immune response to the vaccine, which indicated that stress contributed to lower immunity.
In another study, researchers categorized a group of 235 adults into groups of either low level or high levels of stress. For six months, the participants with high-stress levels had 70% more respiratory infections than those with low-stress levels. They also had around 61% more days of the symptoms than the other group.
10. Digestive problems
High-stress levels affect the digestive system, which could cause problems like stomach aches, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and vomiting. This primarily affects people suffering from digestive disorders like inflammatory bowel disorder and irritable bowel syndrome.
Stress affects how food moves through your digestive tract or triggers muscle spasms in the bowel, which could be painful.
Stress also affects digestion and nutrient absorption in the digestive tract, eventually leading to more gas production leading to bloating. Stress sometimes also affects the bacteria balance in the gut, which causes gastrointestinal discomfort.
Usually, there is a tight barrier that protects the intestines from most food-related bacteria. However, stress could weaken that intestinal barrier, allowing bacteria from the gut to get into the body, causing mild to chronic symptoms.
One study involving 2,699 children indicated that exposure to stressful situations increased their risk of constipation. Another study involving 181 women suffering from IBS indicated that higher stress levels lead to increased digestive distress.
Sweating when under stress is a common phenomenon but can also be frustrating. Sweat glands are controlled by nerves, which are sensitive to hormones and emotions. When you are under stress, your body temperature increases, prompting your sweat glands to produce more sweat.
The flight-or-fright response to stress also triggers sweat glands to produce more sweat to help reduce your body temperature. Stress also causes your body to produce more adrenaline, which triggers more sweat.
In one study, researchers exposed 40 teenagers to stressful situations to monitor their sweating levels. The study indicated that it resulted in higher levels of sweating and increased sweat order in all teenagers.
Depression is a mood disorder that makes people disinterested in things they love and sad all the time. Studies have shown that prolonged stress causes structural degeneration of the brain plus reduced functioning of the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus.
One study involving 816 women suffering from chronic depression indicated that the depression occurred mainly because of acute or chronic stress levels.
While stress is normal, you should not let it linger for a long time because some side effects could cause serious health issues. Fortunately, you can reduce your stress levels by listening to calming music, exercising, practicing yoga, and taking a walk.
If the stress is chronic and prolonged, you might want to see a professional counselor help you deal with your stress.