Everyone experiences signs of stress in different ways. Some of us lock ourselves in our room with Netflix, while others of us go for five-mile runs just to get away from it all. Some of us can't even tell that our body may be crying out for help. Regardless of our personal ways of dealing with tough times, there are certain telltale signs in our bodies that let us know we're overly stressed.
Considering eight in ten Americans report being stressed, it's important to know how stress can manifest itself physically. Too much stress can have detrimental health effects, including short-term effects, such as headaches or stomach aches, to more serious long-term effects, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
"Many people don’t understand the cause of these symptoms — believing it's 'just part of life,'" Dr. Robert Huizenga tells Bustle over email. "The 'fight or flight' adrenaline response can be a lifesaver in emergencies, but the repeated blasts of stress hormones can speed the aging process."
Recognizing that you may be experiencing serious stress can be the first step in driving you to make some changes that can help you unwind and relax. If you're concerned you may have some chronic stress, try looking for these five telltale signs that your worrying may be affecting your body.
1. Increased Heart Rate
Some people are hyperaware of their heart beat and others never pay attention, but if your pulse is constantly high, you're likely experiencing a load of stress. This can take a toll on your heart and lead to heart disease if stress is constant, according to the American Heart Association. So if you find your heart racing more often than not, look for ways to temporarily reduce your stress in order to lower your heart rate.
2. Chest Pain
It's extremely common for people to make extreme stress for a heart attack, as chronic stress can cause chest pains in the body that can be very uncomfortable. "Non-specific chest or abdominal pain occur because stress hormones have an effect on esophageal and intestinal contractility," says Dr. Huizenga. Stress chest pain tends to be more localized and sharp, according to Calm Clinic, and can be contained by focusing on deep breathing and relaxation.
3. Sugar Cravings
"Sugar cravings are known consequences of chronic stress although the exact mechanisms are still debated," says Dr. Huizenga. According to Women's Health, one study found that of people who are stressed, over 75 percent crave sugar. This is likely because stress has an effect on hormones, which can cause you to crave sugary unhealthy foods.
According to studies published on Psychology Today, in many cases, chronic stress can lead to depression, likely because stress can disrupt sleep, alter eating habits, and affect social relationships. Studies have also found that stress can disrupt the hippocampus, which can affect ability to regulate certain functions as well as process memories.
We've all had those days when stress keeps us up at night, but once this becomes a habit, you're probably suffering from stress-induced insomnia. The way you cope with stress can also affect your sleep habits, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Giving up on your stress can make insomnia worse, while distracting yourself can help improve your chances of getting rest.
Stress is part of life, but if it feels like it's affecting you negatively more often than it should, it's worth reflecting on yourself, your moods, and your symptoms to try to develop a plan to fight the feeling.