Stress is often thought to be a mental or emotional issue. However, its effect on our body can be profound. Stress can throw off our hormonal balance, exhaust our internal systems, and cause us to neglect our physical needs such as sleep, diet, and exercise. In the end, it can kill us as surely as cancer or heart disease.
Sometimes we think we are ignoring or managing our stress, when really we are simply internalizing it.
By doing this, we allow our physical health to take the brunt of the damage. This is common in people who are not comfortable showing emotion. It also effects people who do not prioritize their health, such as workaholics or dedicated caregivers.
Is stress sneaking up on you? Here are eight ways to tell:
1. Your digestive system is out of control.
This can manifest in many forms. Stomach pain or cramping, nausea, diarrhea, excess gas, and indigestion are all common symptoms of stress. You might even develop stomach ulcers. Your appetite may fluctuate as well, causing you to gain or lose weight rapidly.
2. You have developed a short temper.
You don’t mean to snap at your loved ones, but sometimes you can’t help it. You have a low tolerance for irritating behavior and thoughtless actions. You would like to be patient. You just don’t have the energy. After you lose your cool, you feel awful.
3. You sometimes feel tightness, tension, or pain in your chest.
You may even experience heart palpitations. You might worry that you are developing a heart problem, which could cause farther anxiety. Even one single episode of chest pain is a strong indicator that your stress level is way too high.
4. You’re physically tired, all the way through to your bones.
You find it difficult to concentrate. Your mind and body are completely exhausted, even after a full night of sleep. Your fatigue may cause you to overeat and overindulge in caffeine, exacerbating the problem.
5. Your sex drive is at zero.
You don’t even want to think about intercourse, and you may even become irritated by your partner’s touch. Stress inhibits the chemical reaction that encourages sex . It can even cause fertility problems in both men and women.
6. Your immune system is falling apart.
You seem to have a low-grade cold all winter, punctuated by frequent bacterial and viral infections. Stress weakens the immune system, making you more susceptible to all kinds of illnesses.
7. You indulge in your vices more liberally than you used to.
Whether your poison is food, alcohol, cigarettes, or something else, you are turning to it more than you’d like to admit. You may be hiding this from friends and family to keep them from worrying.
8. You experience frequent headaches.
These may range from common tension headaches to full-on migraines. The pain may extend to your neck, or it may be most intense behind your eyes. It’s as if your head is literally exploding from trying to contain so much stress.
“I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth diminishing your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear,” wrote Steve Maraboli.
If you are internalizing stress as described above, it’s important to address it.
Lower your workload. Learn new coping skills. See a therapist. Commit to a diet, exercise, and sleep plan. Go on a vacation. Learn to meditate. There are hundreds of ways to fight stress and achieve a healthy balance. Find one that works for you.