It's nearly impossible to avoid stress and worry 100 percent of the time. Work is tough, relationships are difficult, and the world has become an increasingly stressful place. It'd be odd if you didn't feel occasionally stressed out. But did you know that chronically worrying can affect your health? If not, here's your heads up.
"Chronically being in a state of anxious worry is deleterious to a thriving healthy body," renowned functional medicine practitioner Dr. Will Cole tells Bustle. "You can eat kale and kombucha all day long but if you're taking in a big slice of stress and worry, it can impact just about every system of your body."
This is all thanks to what's known as the fight-or-flight response, which releases harmful stress hormones. "It pumps out more hormones like cortisol to help you be ready to run at a moment's notice, and it tenses your muscles to be ready to respond to [a] threat," says business sociologist Kate Sullivan. "You can't keep clenching those muscles all the time without some physical consequences." And you can't keep worrying without it affecting your mental health, either. Read on for some signs you need to learn how to relax, ASAP.
1. Your Shoulders Are All Sorts Of Stiff
If you constantly feel sore and achey, it may be worry that's to blame. "Chronic worry causes the muscles in the body ... to be in at a constant state of being 'on guard,' ready to fight off the perceived threat," says counselor Julienne B. Derichs, LCPC, in an email to Bustle. As a result, you might notice tightness in your shoulders or an overall soreness.
2. You Get Dizzy Pretty Frequently
While dizziness can be a sign of other health issues, it can also result from increased respiration, Derichs tells me. Do you get so worried that you start to breathe heavily to the point you hyperventilate? If so, dizziness often won't be far behind.
3. You've Been Feeling Down In The Dumps
If you have too much cortisol floating around in your body, it can start to wreak havoc on your mental state. "Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels increase risk for depression and other mental illnesses," Derichs says. If you've been feeling down, it may be time to see a therapist for some coping mechanisms.
4. You Feel Weak And Shaky
Shakiness could just mean you need to eat something, STAT. But it could also be a sign of too much stress. As Derichs tells me, trembling and weakness is caused by heightened nervous system activity. While it's normal to feel this way after something stressful happens — like a car accident — it's definitely not normal to feel shaky all the time.
5. You Have A Hard Time Relaxing
Some people can plop down on their couch and enter the chill zone immediately. Others (namely, all my fellow worriers) have a much harder time relaxing. If you're a chronic worrier, you'll likely feel restless and unable to truly let go after a busy day. And that's not OK.
6. You Struggle To Fall Asleep
After a long day of worrying, it's not fair to expect your body to magically turn off. In fact, with stress hormones running rampant, it'll be nearly impossible. Derichs tells me you might have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep, but you might tire easily during the day.
7. Your Heart Is Constantly Racing
A constant state of fight-or-flight can really take a toll on your heart, too. This is all thanks to (you guessed it) cortisol, which can lead to an increased heart rate. As board-certified cardiologist Dr. Michael Morris II tells me, this can cause chronic hypertension and can eventually increase your risk of heart attack, too.
8. You Get Headaches All The Time
With high cortisol, a lack of sleep, racing heart, and sore muscles, it makes sense that headaches would become your MO. That's because, as Derichs tells me, chronic headaches are a physical symptom of too much stress. And definitely one you should look into with your doctor.
9. You Always Feel Run Down
If there's a cold going around at work, do you get it 100 percent of the time? As Cole tells me, chronic worriers are often more susceptible to colds and infections, and often complain about feeling "run down." This is due to stress compromising your immune system.
10. Your Memory Has Gotten Worse
If you constantly misplace your keys and forget important appointments, it may that worrying has taken over your brain. As Derichs says, "For many years research has indicated that elevated cortisol levels interfere with learning and memory." When you don't allow yourself some downtime, stress can truly have an impact.
11. You're Feeling Sweatier Than Usual
While it's normal to sweat throughout the day, it's not as normal to be caked in perspiration from sun up to sun down. If you are, Derichs tells me it could be due to that increased respiration, which can in turn lead to increased sweating.
The occasional bout of stress and worry is perfectly OK, and to be expected. What's not OK is constant worry, which can truly take a toll on your health.
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