You know that feeling you get when you’re trying to finish a project while your angry child is screaming in the other room and your phone keeps dinging with yet another email alert from a picky client who wants something done, like, yesterday, and all you’ve had to eat all day was coffee?
That, my friend, is stress. A little stress is no big deal, but chronic stress can wreak havoc on your health. Stress has been associated with high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, and insomnia. Over time, it can even end in heart disease or obesity!
The crazy thing is, you might not even realize how stressed out you are. It’s hard to see the scenery when you’re driving 100 mph. Your body knows, though, and it will send you signals along the way. If any of this sounds familiar, it might be time to talk to your doctor about healthy ways to process stress:
1. You can’t sleep.
Cortisol and other stress hormones are designed to keep us alert. That can really backfire when you desperately need those precious nine hours of sleep. Try giving up coffee first, but if that doesn’t work, you might be in a state of chronic stress and should consider consulting a medical professional.
2. Your stomach is always upset.
Your gut is full of neurotransmitters, making it kind of like a little brain itself. Maybe that’s why many people feel stress in their stomachs, which can lead to nausea, gas, bloating, and a general icky feeling in the gut.
3. Your hair starts falling out.
Chronic stress can cause a horrible condition that scientists called alopecia areata. Basically, your white blood cells freak out and start attacking hair follicles. Then your hair begins to fall out.
The good news is that once you’re able to calm down for a while, your hair will start growing back. Of course, it’s hard to stay calm when you’re pulling handfuls of hair out of your head.
4. Your temper has a shorter fuse than normal.
When you’re stressed out, you don’t have time for the stuff you’d normally tolerate from friends and colleagues. You may notice that you’re snapping at little things your partner does or even sneering behind your boss’ back. When you feel super-annoyed, instead of lashing out, take a deep breath and ask yourself:
Are you really angry, or are you just super stressed out?
5. You have zero energy.
Stress hormones keep our bodies in fight-or-flight shape, which is totally exhausting. Besides, it’s hard to want to do anything when you feel like everything is overwhelming.
That can all add up to a sense of uncontrollable lethargy. Next time you find yourself clinging to your mattress like your life depended on it, ask yourself if stress could be the cause.
6. You can’t remember your co-worker’s name.
Chronic stress really does a number on the hippocampus. In case you aren’t familiar, the hippocampus is the part of the brain that assists with short-term memory, among other things.
When you’ve been stressed out for an extended period, you might start forgetting simple things like where you put your keys, what you had for lunch, or the name of that one guy who sits across from you at work.
If you start getting silent signals like those described above from your body, it’s time to face your stress. Talk to your doctor, and in the meantime, check out these five stress-release techniques from our friends at the American Psychological Association.