Stress is a natural response to challenging situations, and it can even be a motivating force in our lives. However, when stress becomes chronic and overwhelming, it can have detrimental effects on our physical and mental health. Our bodies are equipped to handle short bursts of stress, but prolonged exposure can be problematic. Prolonged stress leaves the body stuck in a sympathetic state aka “fight or flight”. This chronic state of high alert or high stress can cause a whole host of health problems. These problems include:
- Frequent Headaches
One of the earliest signs that your body is under excessive stress is frequent headaches. Stress can cause tension in your neck and shoulder muscles, leading to tension headaches or cervicogenic headaches.These headaches can be dull and persistent, making it difficult to concentrate and impacting your overall well-being.
- Sleep Disturbances
Stress can disrupt your sleep patterns, leading to difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restorative sleep. If you find yourself tossing and turning at night or waking up feeling unrefreshed, it might be a sign that stress is taking a toll on your body. This is also a sign that your stress hormone, cortisol, is not in balance and may be spiking at the wrong part of the day. Cortisol is our “alert” hormone and should be highest in the morning and taper off throughout the day so we are more ready to go to sleep in the evening.
- Muscle Tension and Pain
Chronic stress can lead to muscle tension and pain, particularly in your neck, shoulders, and back. This tension can result in conditions like myofascial pain syndrome or even contribute to the development of conditions like fibromyalgia. Getting routine chiropractic adjustments can alleviate stress not only on the nervous system, but the musculoskeletal system as well.
- Digestive Problems
Stress has a significant impact on your digestive system. It can lead to stomach aches, indigestion, constipation, or diarrhea. This occurs because when you’re stressed, your body diverts resources away from the digestive process to deal with the perceived threat, which can disrupt normal digestion. Our parasympathetic system (our rest and digest system) is not functioning optimally because we are in a chronic state of sympathetic overload.
- Weakened Immune System
Prolonged stress can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses. If you find that you’re getting sick more often or experiencing slow recovery from illnesses, stress may be a contributing factor.
- Changes in Eating Habits
Some people respond to stress by overeating, while others lose their appetite altogether. Stress can lead to emotional eating, cravings for unhealthy foods, or a lack of interest in food. These changes in eating habits can, in turn, impact your weight and overall health.
- Mood Swings and Irritability
Stress can affect your emotional well-being, leading to mood swings, increased irritability, and feelings of frustration or anger. You may also experience anxiety or depression as a result of chronic stress.
- Cognitive Impairments
Chronic stress can impair your cognitive functions, leading to difficulties with concentration, memory, and decision-making. You might find it challenging to stay focused or complete tasks efficiently.
- Increased Heart Rate and Blood Pressure
When you’re under stress, your body releases stress hormones like adrenaline, which can lead to an increased heart rate and elevated blood pressure. Prolonged high heart rate and high blood pressure can have negative side effects if not addressed early on.
- Skin Issues
Stress can exacerbate existing skin conditions like acne, psoriasis, or eczema. It can also lead to hives, rashes, or excessive sweating.
Recognizing the signs that your body is under too much stress is the first step in managing and mitigating its negative effects. Stress can be physical, mental, chemical, environmental, emotional, or any combination of these. Stress is the root cause of so many chronic conditions. It is important to not only test for stress hormones, like cortisol, but to also work with a practitioner who understands a more well-rounded approach to naturally managing stress. For some people, stress comes from the foods they eat and potential food sensitivities. For others, stress comes from physical stress like injuries or recurrent pain. Addressing stress early on can have long-term benefits for health and longevity.