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Under Pressure and at Risk: The Unexpected Truth About Stress

man in anguish holding his head

We’ve all been there — a big sales pitch is coming up at work, a deer bolts in front of your car, or you’re running late and can’t remember where you last left your car keys. Cue the increased heartrate and sweaty palms. In small, isolated, infrequent doses, stress is normal and has some benefits. Over long periods of time, however, stress can creep its way into your life and refuse to make an exit — and sometimes you don’t even realize it’s there.
When you come face to face with stress, your body goes into defense mode. Even though the days of spearing your next meal and fighting off wild animals are over, the stress you face today is still real and valid. The first step in combatting your stress is recognizing the symptoms. You might be familiar with how your body shows it’s stressed, but some signals are not as obvious.

Symptoms of Stress

Along with the textbook symptoms of stress, like anxiety, a pounding heart and headaches, your body has some rather unexpected ways to tell you to chill out. Some more surprising signs that you may be stressed include:

  • Hair Loss: While the average person loses 100 to 200 strands of hair daily, increased levels of stress can cause you to lose hair in clumps for months at a time. The official medical term for this phenomenon, Telogen effluvium, occurs when a cluster of hair follicles is triggered by stress hormones to enter a resting phase, which causes these follicles to fall out.
  • Stomach Problems: Severe stress can have you running to the restroom. Strong emotions like fear and anxiety impact the brain’s limbic system, which sends signals to your gastrointestinal organs. The unpleasant results can come in the form of nausea, diarrhea, and even stomach ulcers!
  • Mouth Pain and Bleeding Gums: As it turns out, stress can be a real pain in the mouth. If your jaw is sore, there’s a chance you’ve been grinding your teeth in your sleep. Additionally, studies have found association between gum disease and psychological symptoms related to stress. Higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol can weaken the immune system, leaving gums vulnerable to invading bacteria, as well as forming aphthous ulcers in the mouth.
  • Feeling Itchy: A study of 2,000 people found that those with urticarial (hives) and pruritus (itching), are twice as likely to be stressed out than those without the condition. Having an annoying itching problem would be expected to cause stress, but doctors also suggest that stress can worsen underlying skin conditions like dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis among others.

Learn about ways you can relieve stress throughout your day.

Chronic Stress Takes a Toll on Your Body

Stress doesn’t stop with the above symptoms. You could face some hefty consequences down the road if your stress goes unnoticed or ignored. Chronic stress spares no region of your body when it comes to long-term effects, leading to problems in your:

  • Reproductive System: Your brain plays a big role when it comes to sex. Stress can lead to erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and low libido.
  • Cardiovascular System: Your heart pumps much faster when you’re stressed, and if you’re feeling anxious for a long period of time, your blood pressure rises. And when your blood pressure increases over long periods of time, so do your chances of having a stroke or heart attack.
  • Muscular System: Muscles tense up when you’re feeling stressed, and relax when you relax. If you’re never giving those muscles a chance to unwind, you’ll notice an increase in pain such as headaches, back, neck, shoulder and other body aches.
  • Digestive System: In addition to stomach ulcers, stress can affect your gut in other ways. Normally your liver produces extra glucose between meals to give your body a steady supply of energy. If you’re stressed for long periods of time, your body may produce too much glucose, which can put you at risk for developing type 2 Diabetes. Irritable bowel syndrome is another very common stress-related gut issue that can be very uncomfortable to live with.

Stress Can Also Mess with Your Mind

Along with countless physiological consequences, your mental health can take a toll under chronic stress. Not taking time to relax can have negative effects on your:

  • Memory: Forgetting your keys can stress you out, but stress could also cause you to lose your keys and be absent minded, or have poor focus. Talk about a vicious cycle. Research has shown that when you’ve been stressing for a long period of time, you don’t think as clearly, and signals in your brain associated with reasoning skills weaken while those associated with emotions become stronger, leaving you more worried or panicked. A major cause of attention deficit and memory is stress and anxiety.
  • Emotions: Holding on to stress for too long can cause you to become more emotional than your typical self. In addition to the research mentioned previously, chronic stress means burnout and exhaustion. You might find yourself getting overly upset or worked up about trivial matters, or eventually just being numb and not caring.

When It Comes to Stress, Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

Being mindful of and addressing your stress head on might not sound like the most enjoyable thing, but what’s worse than discussing your feelings? All the long-term effects listed above! As a guy, maybe stress doesn’t seem like a big deal, and you’re managing it just fine, but keep in mind that stress can be a serious issue. In fact, OSHA considers stress to be a major hazard in the workplace, with stress-related issues costing American industry more than $300 billion annually.

So though you might feel the need to be strong for everyone around you, remember that it’s important to be the best version of yourself first, for you and your loved ones. As a starting point, take this quick and easy online quiz to see where you stand when it comes to stress.

If you find yourself stressed out, find an outlet, take a little more time for yourself and remember, the healthcare professionals at Sauk Prairie Healthcare are always here to help.