No matter what you do, stress signs and symptoms are impossible to avoid.
However, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Stress is how we grow stronger mentally, emotionally and physically.
With that said, some stress can actually increase the risk of disease.
That’s why it’s important to recognize harmful stress signs and symptoms early before they can do harm.
If you act quickly, you can stop stress in its tracks with stress-reducing activities like deep breathing and exercise.
But first, let’s take a closer look at the signs, symptoms, causes and long-term complications of chronic stress.
What Is Stress?
Stress is the body’s reaction to changes in your environment, your thoughts, and your body.
Chronic stress, on the other hand, is a prolonged stress response that can be harmful to the body and mind.
How Stress Works
When the brain perceives a threat, it activates the stress response (fight-or-flight response) by telling the adrenal glands to release stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and adrenaline. (1)
As it turns out, these hormones prepare the body to either put up a fight or run for your life.
Your heart quickly beats faster, your blood pressure skyrockets, and your senses become sharper.
At the same time, your muscles tighten and your digestion stops.
In the short-run, these are all positive changes for survival.
After a little while, though, the body’s “relaxation response” is supposed to return everything back to normal.
However, if you get stuck in stress mode, it can be a recipe for rapid cellular aging and disease.
The statistics on stress are shocking.
Believe it or not, Americans are one of the most stressed populations in the world.
Exactly how stressed are we?
According to data from Gallup’s 2019 data, 55 percent of Americans experience stress signs and symptoms throughout the day. (2)
Astonishingly, that’s 20 percent higher than the world average.
In fact, the same poll found that Americans aged 30-49 are the most stressed out.
At the same time, a 2016 study from the American Psychological Association (APA) found that women are slightly more stressed than men. (3)
Unfortunately, these stats don’t show any signs of slowing down.
Different Types of Stress
There are two main types of stress: beneficial “eustress” and harmful “distress.”
Eustress is a temporary stress that helps the body prepare for future stressors, whereas distress is chronic/traumatic stress that contributes to disease.
Both can be caused by a similar event, but the difference is how you respond to it.
The three main types of stressful events are:
Major stressful moments
Daily ongoing stress
Brief stressful events can be beneficial if you learn from them and adapt.
Daily stressors and childhood trauma, on the other hand, can lead to chronic stress signs and symptoms if the hormone activity doesn’t return to normal.
This is why it’s important to get enough sleep and engage in other stress-reducing activities.
As if turns out, if you take good care of yourself, daily stressors can help the brain evolve.
However, if you eat poorly and don’t exercise, stress is more likely to ruin your day.
Short-term Stress Signs and Symptoms
In the short-run, you may experience the following stress signs and symptoms:
Feeling tired all the time
Aches and pains
Not feeling hungry
Rapid heart rate
Next, let’s take a closer look at some of the most common stress signs and symptoms:
One of the most noticeable signs and symptoms of stress is fatigue.
A big part of the problem is that stress hormone production can disrupt the sleep cycle and lead to even more fatigue!
With that said, stress and fatigue can also snowball into other health conditions.
For example, a 2015 study found that stress and fatigue can lead to musculoskeletal disease. (4)
2. Teeth Grinding
For the most part, teeth grinding is caused by stress and anxiety.
Unfortunately, it usually happens at night when you’re helpless to stop it.
As a result, people who grind their teeth tend to experience the following side effects:
Difficulty chewing food
Ultimately, if you’re a teeth grinder, the best solution is to sleep with a mouthguard.
3. Sweaty Palms
Sweaty palms are part of the fight-or-flight response as well.
When the brain senses a threat, it triggers “stress sweat, and in the right amount, a little moisture on the palms can improve your grip.
However, too much can make your hands slippery and defeat the purpose.
Unfortunately, the fear center of the brain can’t tell the difference between being chased by a lion and giving a speech, so you might get stuck with moist palms at an awkward time.
Chronic Stress Signs and Symptoms
Research shows that chronic stress can be just as unhealthy as not exercising, eating junk food, and not getting enough sleep.
Initially, chronic stress can lead to…
Changes in weight
For the most part, these side effects are due to high levels of stress hormones.
These hormones send unnecessary messages to organs throughout the body and can have long-term health consequences, including:
High blood pressure
Inflammatory skin conditions
Next, let’s take a closer look at what the research has to say about chronic stress signs and symptoms:
1. Chronic Inflammation
Long-term stress can do severe damage to the body and mind, and inflammation may be to blame.
In fact, stress can cause the body to lose its ability to regulate the inflammatory response. (5)
As a result, inflammation can speed the progression of serious diseases.
To make matters worse, chronic stress can also cause intestinal inflammation and promote bad gut bacteria.
2. Mental Health
Chronic stress can increase the risk of anxiety, depression, panic attacks and suicidal thoughts.
Interestingly enough, inflammation is often closely linked to these mental health issues.
For example, a 2019 study found that psychological stress can trigger inflammation and cause depression. (6)
3. Heart Health
Are you under a lot of pressure?
As it turns out, studies show that it could be putting your heart in danger.
In the end, all it takes is being stuck in traffic every day or coping with an unhappy marriage to tip your ticker over the edge.
Chronic stress signs and symptoms are connected to high cholesterol, obesity, high blood pressure and rapid heart rate.
Ultimately, stress can be the perfect recipe for a heart attack.
For example, a 2012 study found that people with stressful jobs have an increased risk of heart disease. (7)
Chronic stress may increase the risk of cancer and help cancer spread faster.
For example, a recent study found that stress signs and symptoms can increase the spread of colorectal and ovarian cancer. (8)
At the same time, a separate study found that stress may increase the risk of breast cancer. (9)
What makes cancer so easily influenced by stress?
For starters, inflammation is a known risk factor for cancer.
However, stress may also stimulate cancer cells by releasing neurotransmitters like norepinephrine.
Finally, chronic stress weakens the immune system overall.
When it’s all said and done, stress creates an ideal environment for cancer to thrive.
5. Autoimmune Disease
To make matters worse, research shows that stressful events may trigger autoimmune diseases like:
Type 1 diabetes
For example, studies show that you’re more likely to develop an autoimmune disease as an adult if you were abused as a kid. (10)
At the same time, a separate 2018 study found that people with chronic stress are more likely to develop multiple autoimmune diseases. (11)
Causes of Stress
Stress can be caused by changing jobs, moving to a new city, poor diet, lack of exercise, lack of sleep and recurring negative thoughts.
Here’s a closer look at how different environments, situations, and events can cause stress:
1. Stress in the Workplace
According to recent research, the workplace is the main source of stress for many Americans.
As it turns out, relationships with managers and coworkers are one of the biggest work stressors.
When it comes down to it, 83 percent of U.S. workers report some kind of work-related stress. (12)
Stress in the workplace isn’t just uncomfortable, it can also hurt productivity and lead to poor communication.
2. Classroom Stress
School is often a child’s first introduction to stress.
One study of 839 third to fifth graders found that more than half experienced stress signs and symptoms like fear, worry, sadness, and rapid heart rate.
Another 41-46 percent reported headaches and tiredness. (13)
Generally, school-related stress only gets worse in college.
For example, a study of 483 students between 18 and 24 years found that 72-79 percent suffered from stress signs and symptoms like anxiety, depression and psychological distress.
At the same time, more than half reported low self-esteem and little optimism. (14)
2. Childhood Trauma
Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, the founder of the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco, has dedicated years to raising awareness about the effects of childhood trauma.
She has discovered that childhood trauma, like sexual abuse, neglect and mental illness of a parent can trigger chronic stress.
Ultimately, these experiences increase the risk of asthma, autoimmune conditions, heart disease, and obesity. (15)
In fact, stress from childhood trauma can even increase the risk of early death!
3. PTSD from Recent Traumatic Events
As it turns out, trauma doesn’t have to happen when you’re a kid in order to cause chronic stress.
Regardless of age, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can lead to life-altering health issues.
According to a 2010 study, PTSD can contribute to problems like:
High blood pressure
Researchers believe that most of these stress signs and symptoms are caused by hormonal changes. (16)
4. Stress Due to Lack of Sleep
Research shows that Americans would be happier, healthier and safer if they got more sleep.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), most people fall short by 60 to 90 minutes each night. (17)
When it comes down to it, everyone can feel sluggish or have trouble remembering things when they’re tired.
However, lack of sleep can cause far more than just brain fog—it can also strongly affect mood.
The same APA study found that adults who sleep less than eight hours a night are more likely to…
Lose their patience
Yell at their partner
Plus, sleep deprivation has been shown to speed the aging process. (18)
Ultimately, not getting enough sleep can lead to hormone imbalances, inflammation, and chronic stress.
5. Holiday Stress
The holidays can also be a major source of stress.
On the one hand, the holidays tend to make lonely people feel even more lonely.
But many people feel the opposite.
Instead, they feel overloaded with family functions and errand running.
Ultimately, too much togetherness can be enough to push you over the edge and into the stress zone.
You might also be tempted to overeat and overdrink.
However, consuming alcohol, sugar, and carbs can boost inflammation and increase stress.
Financial stress is also a big issue, especially if you have a family and kids.
To top it all off, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) from lack of sunlight can add to feelings of depression.
Here are a few tips to reduce stress signs and symptoms during the holidays:
Schedule “you” time
Cut corners where you can
Lower your expectations for family togetherness
Eat healthily and avoid alcohol
Get natural sunlight whenever you can
In the end, with the right planning, you can survive the holidays with a smile!
How to Relieve Stress Naturally
You can’t always control the stress in your life, but you can adapt to it.
For example, certain elements of daily life, like sleep, breathing and diet can relieve stress signs and symptoms—all it takes is the right approach.
Here are three of the top ways to reduce stress naturally:
1. Quality Sleep
Sleep is your #1 weapon in the war against stress because it has such a long list of health benefits, including hormonal balance.
Ultimately, this is because the natural sleep cycle is regulated by changes in hormone production.
When it’s time for some shut-eye, the brain switches from serotonin to melatonin production.
As you sleep, stress hormones decrease and toxins are flushed out of the brain.
But if you don’t get enough sleep, the body and brain can pay a price with sore muscles and increased stress.
In fact, studies show that sleep disorders can disrupt the stress response.
The worst part, however, is that loss of sleep, even for a night, can boost inflammation throughout the body. (19)
And so what should you do to get better sleep?
For starters, try going to bed at the same time every night (before 10 pm is best).
Other strategies to get a sound night’s sleep include:
Get at least 8-10 hours every night
Wear a sleep mask
Don’t use electronic devices within an hour before bedtime
Meditate for 20 minutes before bed or read a book
Practice deep breathing
Last but not least, get some sunlight (without sunglasses) right when you wake up.
It’s proven to boost human growth hormone (HGH) and strengthen the immune system.
2. Conscious Breathwork
Believe it or not, deep breathing is one of the most effective ways to improve stress response and reduce inflammation.
As it turns out, slow, controlled breathing activates “rest and digest” mode and calms overactive brain activity.
For example, pranayama yoga breathwork is proven to reduce blood pressure and heart rate. (20)
Another stress-reducing technique is called 5 x 5 breathing.
The best part is, it couldn’t be simpler!
Inhale for five seconds
Hold for five seconds
Exhale for five seconds
According to a 2014 study, 5 x 5 breathing can improve heart rate variability, reduce anxiety, and promote relaxation. (21)
Want to go all-in on stress reduction?
Eliminate all distractions and turn your breath work into a meditation session.
Studies show that meditation can relieve stress and reduce the risk of serious illness. (22)
3. Regular Exercise
Get back to the basics of stress management with regular exercise.
Surprisingly, all it takes is 20-30 minutes a day to get your endorphins flowing.
Endorphins, by the way, are powerful painkillers and mood lifters.
When it comes down to it, research shows that people who don’t exercise tend to experience more stress.
First and foremost, exercise changes how your genes regulate the endocrine and nervous systems. (23)
Ultimately, this promotes a better sleep/wake cycle and improves mood.
Feel free to contact us at Complete Care Health Centers for more advice about stress relief.
We’re happy to answer any questions you may have about common stress signs and symptoms.