Not All Signs of Stress Are Obvious

How is your body telling you that you’re stressed?

Your to-do list is longer than a cer­tain drug­store receipt. Every­thing feels like it’s pil­ing up around you. You feel like you don’t have the band­width to do every­thing that needs to be done. 

It’s easy to see — you’re stressed. 

But some­times, stress creeps up on you. Your body may start to rec­og­nize that you’re get­ting stressed and try to warn you. Here’s what you need to know about the ear­ly signs of stress build­ing up that you might not be famil­iar with, and what you can do about it. 

Also read: How Does Stress Affect The Body? Take This Quiz to Find Out!

Those pound­ing headaches could be the prod­uct of stress. 

Ten­sion headaches cause dis­com­fort or pain in your head, neck, or scalp. They’re the most com­mon type of headache — and one of their main sources is stress. 

There is some debate about the exact cause of a ten­sion headache. Many researchers believe that the mus­cles between your neck and head knot up, get tense, and con­tract, even­tu­al­ly lead­ing to tight­ened mus­cles in your scalp. Oth­ers believe that the rea­son cer­tain peo­ple get ten­sion headaches is that they are more sen­si­tive to pain. What­ev­er the cause, most researchers agree that stress is one of the most com­mon triggers. 

In addi­tion to man­ag­ing stress (more on that lat­er), there are sev­er­al ways to pre­vent ten­sion headaches: 

  • Make sure you’re using good pos­ture when work­ing or reading. 
  • Stretch out your shoul­ders, neck, and back when you’re doing close-up work, like typ­ing or using a computer. 
  • Try a dif­fer­ent pil­low or a new sleep­ing position. 
  • Watch your caf­feine intake. While some caf­feine can help curb headaches, too much can actu­al­ly cause them. 
  • Give up smok­ing. Nico­tine in cig­a­rette smoke decreas­es blood flow to your brain and can cause a reac­tion in the nerves in your throat, caus­ing a headache. 

In some cas­es, your provider may also pre­scribe med­ica­tion to pre­vent or reduce headaches. 

To learn about keep­ing your stress lev­els in check, sched­ule an appoint­ment with a Duly Health and Care behav­ioral health spe­cial­ist or your pri­ma­ry care provider

Stress might be why you’re run­ning to the bathroom. 

Many peo­ple notice diges­tive prob­lems like stom­ach aches when they’re ner­vous about some­thing like a job inter­view or pub­lic speak­ing. That but­ter­flies in your stom­ach” feel­ing can also come from stress. This is much thanks to the gut-brain connection.” 

When your brain deter­mines that you’re stressed, it sends sig­nals that stim­u­late the pro­duc­tion of cer­tain hor­mones and chem­i­cals. Some of these may make their way into your diges­tive tract, where they inter­act with tiny microor­gan­isms that help with diges­tion (gut flo­ra). This results in a chem­i­cal imbal­ance that can cause prob­lems like: 

  • Indi­ges­tion
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Increased hunger
  • Nau­sea
  • Con­sti­pa­tion
  • Diar­rhea
  • Irri­ta­ble bow­el syn­drome (IBS)

Also read: Stress In Your Body

      If you’re feel­ing tired all day, stress may be the culprit.

      Stress is a com­mon cause of insom­nia — dif­fi­cul­ty falling or stay­ing asleep, or get­ting good qual­i­ty sleep. If you have rac­ing thoughts or are run­ning through every­thing that needs to get done, it can be hard to fall asleep. And even if you fall asleep eas­i­ly, stress can dis­rupt how much rest you actu­al­ly get. When you fall asleep while stressed, your body may stay in an alert state and cause you to wake up at the slight­est sign of noise or dis­com­fort. The next day, you may notice insom­nia symp­toms such as: 

      • Sleepi­ness dur­ing the day 
      • Dif­fi­cul­ty con­cen­trat­ing or remembering 
      • Feel­ing anx­ious, depressed, cranky, or eas­i­ly irritable 
      • Delayed respons­es, like not react­ing quick­ly enough while dri­ving a car 
      • Con­fu­sion

      When stress is affect­ing your sleep, it’s even more impor­tant than usu­al to pay atten­tion to your sleep hygiene and envi­ron­ment so that noth­ing else is con­tribut­ing to insom­nia. You can set your­self up for a suc­cess­ful sleep in a num­ber of ways, includ­ing med­i­ta­tion and set­ting a mod­er­ate room tem­per­a­ture (about 60 to 67 °F). Also try to avoid screen time, alco­hol, caf­feine, large meals, or nico­tine before going to bed. 

      Also read: Can’t Fall Asleep? It May Be Your Sleep Envi­ron­ment

      New health prob­lems that you can’t explain? You guessed it — it may be stress.

      Headaches, diges­tive issues, and prob­lems with sleep are only a few of the ways in which your body cues you that you’re stressed. Some less­er-known signs include: 

      • Jaw pain (from grind­ing your teeth) 
      • Missed or irreg­u­lar men­stru­al periods 
      • Exces­sive sweating 
      • Los­ing more hair than usual 
      • Decreased sex drive 
      • Trou­ble fight­ing off infec­tions and colds 

      Stress doesn’t need to take over your life. 

      One of the best ways to avoid the effects of stress is to nip it in the bud or pre­vent it from hap­pen­ing in the first place. There are many meth­ods for com­bat­ing stress, including: 

      • Get­ting 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. 
      • Prac­tic­ing mind­ful­ness — when you’re aware of, and accept­ing with­out judg­ment, every­thing that’s hap­pen­ing in the moment with­in your body and your surroundings. 
      • Exer­cis­ing. Phys­i­cal activ­i­ty releas­es feel-good” hor­mones that can help you relax and relieve tension. 
      • Tak­ing time for your­self to do the things you enjoy, like lis­ten­ing to a pod­cast or reading 
      • Adopt­ing a bal­anced diet that includes fer­ment­ed foods (like plain yogurt) and foods that are high in omega‑3 fat­ty acids and fiber. 

      You don’t have to fight stress alone. If you are fre­quent­ly stressed or it’s tak­ing a toll on your health, you may ben­e­fit from work­ing with a men­tal health pro­fes­sion­al like a ther­a­pist or coun­selor. They can help you learn more about your per­son­al stress trig­gers and how you can fight off stress. 

      So next time you’re going through bouts of headaches or sleep­less nights, lis­ten to your body. It may be let­ting you know that it’s time to focus on con­trol­ling your stress. 

      • As a family physician, I prioritize building strong relationships with my patients and delivering personalized care. I believe in understanding each patient's unique health needs and goals to provide effective treatment. Education is important to me, and I aim to equip my patients with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their health.

        Together, we will develop a comprehensive plan that aligns with your health goals, placing you at the center of your care.