Of all the times to feel majorly stressed, year number two of a global pandemic is a pretty good one. But on top of COVID-19, there are other daily stressors to manage. These can include finances, family, relationships, time management and so much more.
Because of this, stress becomes an expected part of our daily lives that our brains push it to the back burner. And while our brains might try to ignore prolonged stressors, our bodies can’t.
If you’re experiencing any of these physical symptoms, you may be more stressed out than you realize.
Your Headache Has Lasted Multiple Days
Not all headaches are the same, and multiple factors can cause them. But if you’re feeling consistent, mild to moderate pain around your head, it might be from stress.
Tension headaches are incredibly common. Research suggests that muscle contractions in the face, neck and scalp trigger this uncomfortable phenomenon.
Dehydration—another symptom of prolonged stress exposure—can also cause headaches due to fluid loss around the brain.
You Have A Stomach Ache That Won’t Go Away
The gut and brain communicate primarily via the vagus nerve. When the brain detects stress, it sends an alert to the gut through neural pathways, which you feel as butterflies in your stomach.
Through this brain-gut connection, the body will manifest stress in many ways. This includes constipation, diarrhea, heartburn and abdominal cramps.
Stressed out individuals are also more likely to eat poorly, smoke or drink excessive amounts of alcohol or caffeine—all of which contribute to more stomach pain.
Your Muscles Are Sore For No Reason
When the body feels stress, the musculoskeletal system reacts by tensing the muscles. Muscle tension is the body’s way of guarding against injury and pain.
Therefore, a constantly stressed body is a constantly tense body. If your body feels like it just ran a 5K when it most certainly hasn’t, prolonged stress might be to blame.
Your body can hold tension in the neck and shoulders, causing tension headaches. Or, you might feel your stress in your back, arms, legs or jaw.
You’re Losing More Hair Than Usual
Stress and anxiety can result in telogen effluvium, a condition in which hair follicles enter a “resting” phase. While in the telogen phase, hair follicles don’t produce new hair strands.
Over time, hair can fall out even with light washing, combing or touching. It’s important to note that this is different from alopecia, a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the hair follicles.
If you’re noticing a lot more hair in your brush or the drain, it might be stress.
You’re Not Getting Turned On
You might have already heard that sex act as a natural painkiller, releasing pain and stress-relieving endorphins. But in an ironic twist of fate (thanks, Mother Nature), high levels of stress can actually lower your libido.
Studies show that chronic levels of high stress impair women’s genital sexual arousal. When you’re stressed, your mind is distracted, and cortisol levels are higher.
In plain English, it’s hard to get into it. Before you ditch your boo for someone new, consider if stress is affecting your ability to get intimate.
You’re Having Weird Dreams
Sleep may seem like a no-brainer escape from everyday stressors. But in reality, our brains don’t stop stressing just because we’ve gone to sleep.
Chronic stress can cause hyperarousal, which upsets the balance between sleep and wakefulness. When the body enters fight-or-flight mode while sleeping, it often manifests as unsettling dreams or nightmares.
The Cleveland Health Clinic offers several tips to promote restful sleep.
Your Flow Is Different This Month
An abnormal menstrual cycle might be another sign you’re more stressed than usual
This is because fight-or-flight mode affects the body’s ability to release hormones on time. This, in turn, directly affects ovulation and menstruation. Delayed ovulation can result in a missed or lighter than usual period. Conversely, stress can also cause heavier bleeding, worse abdominal cramps and more severe PMS.
Again—thanks, Mother Nature.
You’re Eating A Lot (Or Hardly At All)
Stress can drastically change our eating habits. For some, stress makes them eat everything in sight. For others, stress zaps away their appetite altogether.
When a body is under stress, the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys release adrenaline. In this state, the urge to eat is temporarily put on hold. But if the stress continues, the adrenal glands release cortisol. Cortisol increases appetite, which can lead to overindulging in high-fat, sugary foods.
Your Brain Feels Foggy, Forgetful And Frazzled
Finally, sometimes our brain tells us what’s going on by telling us what we don’t know. Fogginess and forgetfulness are both side effects of prolonged stress and anxiety.
According to a 2008 University of California study, even short term-stress can impair brain-cell communication. Other studies show that memory loss and prolonged anxiety are inseparable.
So, no, you’re not losing it—you might just be stressed out.
Everyone responds to, handles and overcomes stress differently. Seeking professional counseling, changing daily habits and avoiding drugs and alcohol can help you decrease and better manage your stress levels.