Appropriate levels of stress can keep you motivated. But we’ve all got a tipping point, past which stress becomes destructive – deadly, even. So when does chronic stress become stress sickness? (1)
Here are 7 easy-to-miss signs you’ve passed that point into the world of stress sickness.
According to Stanford researcher Robert M. Sapolsky, excess stress causes your brain’s production of glucocorticoids to skyrocket. (2) Specifically, these compounds wear down your brain’s hippocampus, which is responsible for forming new memories. No, you don’t have to remember the word, but just know that this is one element of stress sickness. (3)
In fact, as the Canadian Centre For Studies On Human Stress puts it, stress-related memory loss often manifests itself in memory that seems to be all there one minute but vanishes as soon as something else of importance happens. (4)
Most headaches experienced by adults are known as tension – or stress – headaches. For most people, they occur when stress tightens scalp and neck muscles. Stress headaches are typically accompanied by difficulty sleeping, irritability and light/noise sensitivity. And many people miss work due to this particular stress sickness. (5)
3. Digestive Issues
According to Dr. Kenneth Koch, excess stress can affect every part of your digestive system: (6)
“Stress can cause your esophagus to go into spasms,” he says. “It can increase the acid in your stomach causing indigestion. Under stress, the mill in your stomach can shut down and make you feel nauseous. Stress can cause your colon to react in a way that gives you diarrhea or constipation.”
4. Unexplained Weight Changes
Stress causes some people to either lose or gain weight rapidly. This is largely because of the way stress impacts hormones. When you’re stressed, your body increases more adrenaline and cortisol – both of which affect appetite. (7)
Some people have what’s known as the “stress eating gene.” These people, as the name suggests, eat more under stress and gain weight as a result. Others have the exact opposite response. (8)
5. Frequent Sickness
People who are stressed may find themselves getting sick easier – and more often. This is because of the way chronic stress impacts your immune system. Stress produces high levels of cytokines – inflammatory compounds researchers have linked to a number of autoimmune disorders. (9)
Chronic stress also makes it harder for the proteins in your body to communicate with immune cells. This keeps your body from responding to threats like colds and viruses.
6. Hair Loss
Normally, hair grows, stops growing and then falls out. (10) But chronic stress cuts this process short at the ‘growing’ stage and fast forwards to the part where hair falls out. This typically happens because of the hormone disruption associated with stress. (11)
There is a delay between stress and hair loss, though – roughly three months.
So if you’ve begun to notice your hair falling out, think back to what you were doing three months ago. Have you done anything to make life less stressful? No? Your hair’s gonna keep falling out, my friend.
7. Skin Problems
Chronic stress can also make pre-existing skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis worse. This is because stress prompts chemical changes in your body that leave your skin more sensitive. (12)
What’s more, stress can make acne flare up due to the increase in skin oil that accompanies it.
Wondering what you should do about chronic stress? Check out this post to learn about 10 awesome strategies! The video below will also provide some tips.