Everyone needs to keep their eye on signs of stress. We all suffer from it at one time or another—we’re human, we are flawed, we get overwhelmed and it’s totally, 100% normal. Even the best planners, the most organized individuals and those friends who *seem* to have their acts together get stressed from time to time. And while it’s no secret that stress isn’t really good for you, we’re willing to bet that you didn’t know all the surprising ways that stress can do damage to your body. Let’s back up and talk about what stress really is, because it’s a normal part of life and a very common reaction to any change (be it emotional, physical, mental etc.) in your daily interactions and world. According to the American Psychological Association, stress is what happens when your body reacts to a threat, change or sense of danger. “Faced with danger, the body kicks into gear, flooding the body with hormones that elevate your heart rate, increase your blood pressure, boost your energy and prepare you to deal with the problem.”
And while sometimes stress can incite positive actions, such as running from danger or when a rush of adrenaline motivates you to work harder, it can more often cause a lot of negative physical and emotional reactions in your body. Here are 8 signs of stress that show it’s less-attractive side and take hold on your body. And trust us, when you see how stress can negatively impact your health, you’ll be more motivated than ever to find ways to manage the levels of stress in your daily life.
1. Weight Gain Sure, some people get stressed and forget to eat or simply lose their appetite, so they eat less and therefore lose weight, but more often than not stress can cause an unwanted and unintended weight gain. That’s because when we get stressed we eat, and sometimes we eat without even realizing or paying attention what we’re putting into our bodies. We seek comfort from food, and when our minds are distracted we can make poor decisions from a wellness perspective. Beyond that, when you get stressed the levels of cortisol in your body are elevated, which causes you to feel hungry even if you are not. And when your body tricks you into thinking you are hungry, you’re rarely going to grab a salad. “Instead, we crave sweet, salty, and high-fat foods because they stimulate the brain to release pleasure chemicals that reduce tension,” explains Elissa Epel, PhD, a researcher on stress eating at the University of California, San Francisco in Prevention. Stress leads to eating unhealthy foods, which leads to weight gain and then more stress. It’s a vicious cycle that you need to nip in the bud.
2. Your Complexion If you ever suffered from stress-induced acne, you know what we’re talking about. Stress and anxiety can do major damage to your skin, and soon enough you won’t just be feeling the effects of your stress, you’ll be wearing it all over your face as well. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, “researchers have found a relationship between stress and acne flare-ups. In response to stress, our bodies produce more androgens (a type of hormone). These hormones stimulate the oil glands and hair follicles in the skin, which can lead to acne. This explains why acne can be an ongoing problem when we find ourselves under constant stress.”
3. Gray Hair You’ve probably heard people who are in stressful situations comment on the fact that they are developing gray hair just from being anxious or overwhelmed. And we’ve all seen photos of President Obama when he was inaugurated (not gray) versus today (very gray). But is there any truth to that statement, or is it more of an old wives’ tale? Well, both. Stress doesn’t necessarily make you develop gray hairs if you were never going to get them otherwise. But if you are pre-disposed to going gray, stress can accelerate that process exponentially. As Time reports, according to Dr. Tyler Cymet, chief of clinical education at the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, “there’s evidence stress may shorten the duration of your hair’s cycles, which would accelerate the spread of gray…stress also creates systemic inflammation, which can switch off those pigment-producing cells.”
4. Poor Sleep When we get stressed we often have a hard time turning off our brains, and when you would normally wind down, relax and drift off to sleep at the end of a long day, a stressful mindset can make it really difficult to rest and catch some Z’s. And when we don’t get enough sleep we can get sick, lose weight (or gain weight), suffer poor concentration or develop chronic sleep disorders and insomnia.
5. Diminished Sex Drive When you feel stressed you can develop a negative body image, which doesn’t really make you feel like being intimate. As Huff Post tells it, stress can also affect your hormones in a way that reduces your libido and when your sex hormones take a dive, your sex life will as well. A healthy relationship goes hand in hand with a healthy sex life, and if you are overly stressed all the time, it will be really difficult (and even stressful) to keep up the health and intimate relationship you long for.
6. Headaches As Health reports, the combination of tense muscles from stress alongside certain chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol pumping through your body can all cause major tension headaches any time you feel stressed. And good luck trying to de-stress when you feel like your head is going to explode.
7. High Blood Pressure Lastly, when you are in a stressful situation your heart starts racing, pumping blood through your veins, but at the same time your blood vessels constrict, causing your blood pressure to rice. Typically, that feeling goes away when the stress goes away, but sometimes it can lead to chronic issues with blood pressure, so if you want to avoid any permanent damage to your health, you need to find ways to manage your stress today.