In small amounts, stress can be a good thing; the body’s physical reactions to stress lead to faster reflexes, heightened awareness, and adrenaline that can be used to improve performance. When levels of stress are too constant and too high, however, these temporary benefits become long-term problems. The symptoms of stress appear throughout the body, from the skin and hair inward, but an awareness of these warning signs can lead to addressing the causes of stress before the results become serious.
The chemicals released during stress cause a lot of strain to the body over time. Energy levels are drained. A rapid heartbeat and chest pain might occur. Pain of all sorts intensify, particularly chronic pain, tight muscles in the back, and headaches. Tense muscles can affect the jaw, leading to clenching and grinding teeth. The body’s healing and disease-fighting abilities are reduced, leading to more frequent infections and colds in addition to aches and injuries that last longer. The digestive system shows its effects with such problems as nausea, constipation, and diarrhea.
The exterior of the body shows the symptoms of stress more visibly. Hair loss is common, and can show up several months to half a year after a particularly stressful event. Dermatologists believe this is due to an excess of androgens, a type of hormone present in increased levels when stress is high. Androgens not only interfere with follicles, but also the skin in general; breakouts of acne are also frequent signs of stress, as are rashes or problems like eczema. Such physical problems also tend to amplify stress’s emotional symptoms by damaging the self-image and amplifying anxiety or depression.
Even if hair loss and bad skin are not present to negatively affect a sufferer of stress, low self-esteem and depression can occur during prolonged times of unhealthy stress. A feeling of being overwhelmed and lacking control is common, as is a racing mind that is difficult to calm and relax. Stress can lead to avoiding others, which is particularly harmful when it isolates the stress victim from a potentially helpful support network. Frustration, agitation, and moodiness compound the other emotional symptoms.
The negative effects of stress can easily become a downward spiral, which is clearly demonstrated in its cognitive symptoms. Constant worry, disorganization, forgetfulness, and an inability to focus heighten stress levels in an endless feedback loop. These, in addition to poor judgment, lead to frequent mistakes that result in greater stress. A strong feeling of pessimism blends the emotional and cognitive effects of stress and intensifies them. They also lead to problematic behavioral symptoms such as avoidance of responsibilities, procrastination, and increased reliance on habits such as cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol.
Awareness of the symptoms of stress is the first step in addressing problems before they turn into serious, long-term conditions. Medical doctors, counselors, and therapists can all play a strong role in helping to overcome stress, both by managing its symptoms and attacking its cause. General strategies include the avoidance of unnecessary stress, altering stressful situations that cannot be avoided, adaptation to remaining stressors, and acceptance of the things in life that cannot be changed. A healthy diet, regular exercise, time for relaxation, and adequate sleep also strengthen resistance to stress and its effects.