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Chronic headaches, digestive problems, fragmented sleep, nightmares, excessive sweating, abnormal hair loss, and lack of desire to do enjoyable activities are some of the surprising physical or mental symptoms of excessive exposure to stress. Do you know all the signs of stress in your body? Let’s take a look.
Stress can be good if it is controlled and doesn’t manifest itself often. But that’s not always the case. If it becomes chronic, it can have serious effects on physical and mental health, such as high blood pressure, intense fatigue, and depression. Learn to identify all the signs and recognize the unexpected signals the body can send us when it detects potentially dangerous levels of stress.
Headaches and migraines
Do you experience pounding headaches all day long? Stress can be a trigger for headaches, especially tension headaches and migraines:
- Although it is unclear how stress is involved in tension headaches and stress alone cannot explain all the symptoms by itself, it may however still be involved in triggering them.
- Migraines, on the other hand, are due to abnormal neuronal excitability, as in the case of epilepsy or certain movement disorders. This phenomenon is intrinsically linked to a genetic predisposition modulated by environmental factors such as hormones, stress, diet, etc…
If the pain is sudden, intense, accompanied by fever or double vision, or if it occurs after head trauma, you should go to a hospital immediately.
If you find a lot of hair in your brush, you may be suffering from stress. This link between hair loss and chronic stress has just been clarified in a study published in the journal Nature. The researchers claim to have identified the biological mechanism by which chronic stress alters hair follicle stem cells. More specifically, they discovered that a key stress hormone puts hair follicle stem cells into a prolonged resting phase without regenerating the follicle or the hair. This mechanism has not yet been confirmed in humans, as these findings were made in mice.
The follicle is one of the rare tissues that can undergo regeneration cycles throughout life. This invisible part of the hair, located below the scalp and containing the hair bulb, naturally passes between phases of growth and rest, a process led by stem cells. During the growth phase, these cells are activated to regenerate the follicle, but during the resting phase they are inactive and the hair falls out more easily. Hair loss can occur if the hair falls out and the stem cells remain inactive without regenerating new hair.
The gut can be one of the first places where we feel the symptoms of stress and anxiety. The brain has a direct effect on the gut. This connection is bidirectional and can cause many symptoms such as pain, bloating, nausea, ulcers, flatulence, and diarrhea. Stress can also cause IBS, which manifests itself in acute attacks when you are tense, as well as constipation.
Stress can disrupt your sleep patterns. Hormones such as cortisol can keep the body awake as it remains in a state of alertness. This can lead to sleep deprivation, poor sleep quality, and even insomnia.
Stress can become too great, come at the wrong time, or be too prolonged and have negative consequences on sleep. That’s why it’s important to take stress into account in good sleep management.
The stress and frustrations of everyday life can also cause bizarre dreams. Among the most common: falling, being attacked by someone, being locked in, or repeatedly trying to do something without success.
One of the many emotional symptoms of stress is a general feeling of unease. Do you no longer enjoy spending time with your loved ones or indulging in your hobbies? If you no longer enjoy doing the things you used to do, you may not only be stressed but also suffer from depression.
Biologically, long-term stress can cause disturbances in the serotonin system and neuroinflammation, including the activation of immune cells in the brain. On a clinical level, long-term chronic stress can also promote the onset of depressive disorders and suicide in vulnerable individuals. If you notice these symptoms, it’s time to talk to a health professional.
Clammy hands, sweaty face, and armpits; when the body reacts to an emotion such as anxiety, stress, or tension, sweat is released by sweat glands. These glands are located in the armpits, groin, and scalp and produce sweat that is composed of fatty acids and proteins but is often odorless. This stress-related sweat is often referred to as cold sweat.
Unfortunately, it can create a vicious cycle, as stress feeds perspiration and, conversely, perspiration is a source of stress. Fortunately, there are solutions to combat excessive sweating.
What other effects does Stress have on the body?
the most common signs of stress include:
- Muscle tension and pain
- Appetite problems (loss or Increase)
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Skin problems such as acne eczema
- Feeling breathless or tense
- Chest pains
- Decreased libido
- Panic attacks
Symptoms can also be emotional, intellectual, and behavioral:
- Emotional symptoms: increased sensitivity and nervousness, irritability, bouts of crying, anxiety, tension, sadness, malaise, etc..
- Intellectual symptoms: decreased concentration leading to errors and forgetfulness, difficulty in taking initiative or decisions, etc.
- Behavioral symptoms: changes in eating habits, withdrawal, violent and aggressive behavior, social isolation, use of sedatives or stimulants, and tendency towards addiction.
Physical exercise, meditation, and psychotherapy are useful options for minimizing stress.
How do you know if you suffer from anxiety or stress?
Stress and anxiety are sometimes confused. Stress is not always negative: it is a normal physiological response to pressure or aggression from our environment. Stress refers to a situation that forces us to adapt and when the cause of stress ceases, the stress reaction usually disappears. On the other hand, a person with anxiety continues to show signs of worry and tension even after the stressful situation has ceased.
Choi, S., Zhang, B., Ma, S. et al. Corticosterone inhibits GAS6 to govern hair follicle stem-cell quiescence. Nature 592, 428–432 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03417-2
Konturek, P. C., Brzozowski, T., & Konturek, S. J. (2011). Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. Journal of physiology and pharmacology : an official journal of the Polish Physiological Society, 62(6), 591–599. Retieved From: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22314561/
National Institutes of Health (NIH). (2021, April 13). How stress causes hair loss. Retrieved from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/how-stress-causes-hair-loss
Kalmbach, D. A., Anderson, J. R., & Drake, C. L. (2018). The impact of stress on sleep: Pathogenic sleep reactivity as a vulnerability to insomnia and circadian disorders. Journal of Sleep Research, 27(6), e12710. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsr.12710
Stubberud, A., Buse, D.C., Kristoffersen, E.S. et al. Is there a causal relationship between stress and migraine? Current evidence and implications for management. J Headache Pain 22, 155 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s10194-021-01369-6
Harker, M. (2013). Psychological sweating: a systematic review focused on aetiology and cutaneous response. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, 26(2), 92-100. https://doi.org/10.1159/000346930