Stress has become an unfortunate but inevitable by-product of modern day life. With nearly one in five kiwis reporting significant levels of distress or anxiety symptoms, it's likely many of us will experience it at one stage or another.
While we tend to associate stress with psychological pressure, it also manifests beyond the mental. Here's how to spot some of the lesser-known physical signs of stress, plus some alternative management techniques that can help you keep your cool when it strikes.
1. Skin problems
If you're prone to skin conditions, be aware that flare-ups could coincide with prolonged periods of stress. Psoriasis, eczema, and acne have all been found to surface more frequently when cortisol (the stress hormone) levels are higher than usual.
And that's not all; further research shows the more stressed we are, the more our skin struggles to regenerate when it's damaged, meaning wounds take longer to heal.
2. Weight gain
We tend to think that stress results in the kilos dropping off, but research shows that the reverse is actually more likely to be true. This is primarily because elevated levels of cortisol tend to have us scrambling for high-sugar comfort foods.
3. Hair loss
Stressful situations can make us literally want to tear our own hair out, and they can also provoke aggressive chemical reactions that can lead to conditions like alopecia and telogen effluvium, both of which can cause hair to fall out in clumps.
4. Muscle pain
It could be more than exercise that's leaving you feeling achy. When we're stressed, we subconsciously tense up, and when we're tense, our muscles are working overtime. This can lead to chronic body pain, which tends to manifest primarily in the lower back, neck and shoulders.
5. Allergy attacks
Studies show that stress can increase the risk of allergies, so if you seem more susceptible to hay fever or other seasonal responses, it could be that your stress levels have lowered your defences and you've become hypersensitive to triggers as a result.
6. Sensitive teeth
You'd think sleep might give you a reprieve from the symptoms of stress. However, stressful thoughts can often translate into aggressive teeth grinding while we're asleep. This not only wears our teeth down, but can cause other knock-on effects like severe jaw pain and relentless headaches, too.
7. Chest pains
We all know the feeling when we're faced with a 'fight or flight' situation - the adrenaline kicks in and our heart rate inevitably begins to rise. In small doses, this response can be beneficial for our wellbeing, but putting continuous strain on our heart in this way can be damaging in the long-term. In fact, stress is reportedly an underlying factor in cardiovascular conditions, like strokes, and has even been found to cause a specific kind of heart attack - takotsubo cardiomyopathy - which is triggered by sudden emotional stress.
With all of these symptoms in mind, it's no wonder our go-to solutions for stress tend to centre on relaxation or distraction tactics like meditation, mindfulness and exercise. Yet research shows that actually engaging with feelings of stress, rather than trying to temporarily eradicate them, could be more beneficial for our health in the long-term. Here's how: