We all know about the common symptoms of stress: Snapping at our partners, eating our feelings, and maybe even experiencing some fun adult acne. But there are other, more surprising signals that could be your body's way of telling you it's time to chill. From bouts of forgetfulness to nasty skin rashes, these are the stress symptoms you shouldn't ignore.
If you've been experiencing a killer headache more often than usual, it could be because you're stressed to the max. (Though it could also be due to other external factors, like your office lights being too bright.) Stress is one of the most common causes of tension headaches, which can be triggered by everyday irritants like traffic or work drama, and they can be compounded by other symptoms like muscle stiffening and pressure across your forehead. To treat the pain long-term, it's best to manage your stress, though you should also seek medical help if the frequency passes 15 or more days a month for three months, or if you have to take medication more than twice a week, reports the Mayo Clinic.
It's no surprise that long, stressful hours at work don't exactly make you want to jump into bed for sexy time with your partner. The Mayo Clinic reports that a change in sex drive is another common stress symptom. It's no big deal if you pass here and there, but if you're skipping out on sex significantly more than usual, you may want to consider speaking with a counselor.
You know stress can cause acne, but it turns out your skin can indicate you're feeling maxed-out in other ways, like having a rash pop up seemingly out of nowhere. It usually appears as raised spots or hives on the stomach, back, arms, and face, says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., psychologist, physical therapist, and author of Better Than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love. "While we don't know why it occurs, some experts believe that it has to do with the adverse effects of stress on the immune system," she says. "Histamine is released, [and that causes] these itchy bumps."
Deep breathing may help lower your stress levels and ultimately keep rashes at bay, Dr. Lombardo says. Next time you feel unhinged, place your hand right above your belly button. "Every time you inhale, you want your hand to rise; with each exhale, it lowers," she explains. "Take 5 to 10 deep breaths periodically throughout the day."
The pain in your neck that you attributed to long hours at the computer could actually be an indicator that there's too much on your plate. "Stress definitely affects our musculoskeletal system, resulting in tight, contracting muscles and/or spasms," Dr. Lombardo says. "It gets us ready for fight-or-flight, even though unlike our cavewomen ancestors, we don't actually need our bodies to react like this."
To help your muscles relax, Dr. Lombardo suggests taking 5 to 10 deep breaths while focusing on rela the area that feels tense. If your neck is giving you trouble, try gently rolling your head side to side, then nodding your head yes and shaking it no. Need a little more? Enlist your partner for a quick shoulder rub.
It's a classic, stress-induced habit: biting your nails and picking at cuticles. "Nervous habits like [this] are how we channel our stress by distracting ourselves with what is known as oral satisfaction," says Debbie Mandel, author of Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7-Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life. It's a way of getting out that pent-up energy, but it does our manicure zero favors.
To stop taking stress out on your hands, consider keeping a stress ball in your desk drawer or in your car — something you can squeeze or knead when on the phone with a difficult client, for instance. You could also paint on a bitter-tasting nail polish to discourage you from putting your fingers in your mouth.
We all know that slacking off on dental hygiene is the first way to get cavities, but stress can also be a culprit, especially if you tend to grind your teeth. That nasty little habit is known as bruxism, and it can damage your teeth, making them more susceptible to cavities, reports the Mayo Clinic. And in chronic cases, it can even lead to tooth loss, which is exactly what happened to actress Demi Moore.
If you notice you're grinding during the day, try to redirect that stress to pen and paper. "Set aside time to write down your problems, to see them objectively in black and white, and then jot down some solutions," Mandel says. That'll help you feel more focused, and less overwhelmed by the big picture items that may be causing a freakout.
If that doesn't help though, and your teeth grinding is severe (or you do at night), then you may need to see a dentist about getting a mouth guard, Mandel says.
Yes, it's very possible to get so upset about something that it makes you physically ill. "Stress can upset the stomach, and nausea can be a byproduct of worry," Mandel says. It's usually temporary, but when it happens, try eating a ginger chew to keep nausea at bay.
When you're stressed out, it's normal to want to curl up under the covers and snooze more than usual. That's because stress hormones cause your body to surge with adrenaline, only to eventually crash and make you want to sleep, Mandel says. "It can also ruin the quality of your sleep, so you wake up tired and irritable," she says.
Other than relieving the cause of your stress, Mandel says it can be helpful to get in bed a half-hour earlier than normal. Even if you don't fall asleep faster, being in a calming environment like your bedroom – and powering down your technology — can help you decompress.
Ask any woman who is trying to do it all and she'll admit to a few slip-ups in the memory department, be it a forgotten-about appointment or mysteriously missing keys. "Research shows that chronic stress can literally shrink the size of the hippocampus, which is responsible for some memories," Dr. Lombardo says. "Luckily, its size will go back to normal once your stress level reduces."
To keep your brain functioning at an optimal level, combat the first signs of stress with exercise, Dr. Lombardo says. "Go for a walk, run up a flight of stairs, or dance around," she suggests. Research shows that exercise keeps your brain sharp, and may even help you be more prepared for future stressful moments, she adds.
When you're stressed, there's likely too much on your plate. So it'd be helpful if you could make fast decisions to get those things off your to-do list. But stress is a tricky thing, and it causes distraction and a lack of focus that can make decision-making that much harder, Mandel says.
To restore focus, block out time for a walk. "Move the stress out of your body by exercising large muscle groups, like the legs, to regain clarity," Mandel says. If you can, opt to go outside — research shows being out in natural light can stimulate the production of serotonin to improve your mood, while vitamin D helps improve your immune system, she adds.