4 Unexpected Ways Stress Shows Up In Your Body

What are some physical ways stress manifests in your body?

Hanna Kim - 10/26/2018

Life Is Stressful for Many Americans

Americans are stressed about many things and rightfully so, with the current political climate bringing about uncertainty and exacerbating day-to-day stressors. According to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2018 Stress in America report, the most common stressors today are the future of our nation (63%), money (62%), and work (61%). Moreover, the APA found more respondents reporting feeling stress in 2017, marking the first statistically significant increase in ten years of annual surveys.

Reducing stress starts with awareness. Our bodies know when we’re stressed, even if our minds may not always be entirely attuned to it. Stress can come up in our bodies in many ways, differing from person to person. Often, stress can increase pre-existing health conditions. Some common signs and symptoms of stress to look out for include:

  1. Chronic Pain
If you’ve been feeling pain and discomfort in your body with no direct cause like strain from exercise, consider that you may be feeling stressed. Stress can also increase pain for people with conditions like sickle cell disease (1). Common areas of the body we feel pain when we’re stressed include the neck and shoulders, which tense up. Others may feel stress in the form of tension headaches.
  1. Decreased Energy and Fatigue
Sometimes you may feel despite going to bed at a reasonable time every day and having several cups of coffee, you can’t shake off a feeling of tiredness. Stress may prevent you from getting a good night’s rest by creating sleep fragmentation or higher levels of insomnia (2).
  1. Depression and Anxiety
There are a number of contributing factors to mental health symptoms like depression and anxiety, not limited to family history, past trauma, brain chemistry, hormone imbalance, and current medications. New stressors can make it harder to manage already existing depression and/or anxiety. One study found acute or chronic stress is significantly associated with major depression (3), highlighting the importance of managing stress for better mental health.
  1. Changes in Appetite

Have you found yourself feeling not hungry at all, despite missing multiple meals? Or perhaps you feel yourself craving more food, especially those that are high in salt, fat, or sugar? One study of college women found that in times of stress, 81% of these women experienced a change in appetite, with 62% experiencing an increase, and 38% a decrease (3).

Look out for the different ways stress may manifest in your body. Treating stress, which may be the heart of the issue, instead of only the surface symptoms may help you more significantly improve your health. A daily mindfulness ritual can help you learn to recognize and let go of stress.

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