1. Difficulty Remembering Things
Both short- and long-term stress can affect your cognitive capabilities, with memory being one of them. People who live under excessive stress often report having difficulty retrieving important information and even more issues with memorizing new things. Why this happens isn't certain, but it is suggested that the memory problems have both a psychological and a neurological cause.
On one hand, high cortisol (the stress hormone) levels in the brain were linked to short-term memory loss in seniors, so the hormone might be to blame. On the other hand, anxiety and depression, as well as sleep issues stressed people often experience likewise increase forgetfulness, so these, too, likely contribute to the issue. In any case, relaxing your body and mind may help you restore your true memory.
2. Cravings for Junk Food
Stress eating is not a myth, it's a real phenomenon, one that's more dangerous than you'd think, too. When stress levels rise, the delicate hormonal balance can be upset, and often, the levels of hunger hormones are affected, too. This is why some people will not be able to eat while they're stressed, whereas others will tend to overeat and indulge in junk food.
The result - a terrible habit that contributes to weight gain and other health issues, as well as an emotional attachment to food.
3. Wrinkles and Gray Hairs
Increased hair and skin aging can be the result of chronic stress, and it's not only because we tend to do less self-care when we're stressed out. Studies have shown that high-stress levels decreased collagen production in the skin, and collagen is the building block of our skin cells and the substance that makes skin plump and youthful-looking.
As for gray hairs, the neurotransmitter called norepinephrine that's secreted during a stressful moment in the sympathetic nervous system seems to be to blame, as revealed in a recent study. As a result of the so-called fight or flight response to stress, norepinephrine drains the pigment from melanocyte cells in your hair, causing gray hairs.
Needless to say, stress is not the only cause of wrinkles and gray hairs, as is the case with many other signs on this list, but it is certainly one of the major factors contributing to these signs and symptoms.
4. You Catch the Cold and Flu More Often
Immune suppression is one of the most dangerous and least understood effects of stress on the human body. Several studies have shown that chronic stress affects the immune system, with one notable paper finding that people experiencing a lot of stress typically suffer 70% more respiratory infections and suffer from cold and flu symptoms for 61% longer than those who experience low levels of stress.
Some researchers believe that this is because people who suffer from stress are less sensitive to cortisol since they have higher levels of the hormone as a result of stress, and so their immune cells fail to activate when cortisol levels rise in response to an infection. Still, the precise mechanism is poorly understood, but you should definitely take extra care in protecting yourself from infections if you're under a lot of stress.
5. Rapid Heartbeat and Hypertension
A famous symptom of the fight or flight response is a rapid heartbeat, which is rather useful when your cortisol levels rise in response to a physical stimulus, like a rapidly approaching car when you're crossing the street, as it will help your muscles get more oxygen and will make running away from the dangerous situation easier.
Unfortunately, running away from most issues people face these days isn't a solution, but our bodies still react to emotional and work-related stress the same way, pumping up the heartbeat, and as a result, contributing to hypertension. Combine this with a stress eating habit, and you have a recipe for a cardiovascular disaster, so please watch your stress levels and diet to avoid heart issues and hypertension.
6. Difficulty Concentrating
Another cognitive symptom of stress is difficulty concentrating, or brain fog. While this symptom is often temporary, in some people, difficulty maintaining focus due to stress can significantly impair their work or school performance. These difficulties, in turn, can raise your stress levels even more and cause anxiety or depression, all of which are bound to further worsen your cognitive health.
If you're experiencing this symptom, try mental relaxation techniques, such as meditation, and try to maintain a healthy sleep schedule and activity levels to break the cycle.
7. Changes in Libido
During times of intense stress, your libido, too, can and often does take a hit. This is because stress is a complex neuropsychological response that alters one's hormone levels and affects your emotional well being.
Stress, anxiety, and depression (the latter two can be caused by stress as well) can lower your sex hormone levels, with studies finding a correlation between low testosterone levels and stress, which can and probably does contribute to the sex drive impairment in both sexes. De-stressing and focusing on your emotional health is key to prevent and deal with these libido changes.
8. Shortness of Breath
Breathing problems, such as shortness of breath and even asthma are significantly more common among people who experience a lot of stress. These issues can also become worse if you're under stress, as your chest muscles and diaphragm can tighten in response to stress, making you breathe faster. As a result, this can cause anxiety, which fastens the breathing and heartbeat even further. In cases like these, it's important to make yourself breathe slowly and deeply to stop the vicious cycle.
Interestingly, in one study, researchers also found that women who were stressed out during pregnancy were a lot more likely to give birth to kids with asthma and other breathing difficulties, so stress can have very far-reaching health effects.
9. Fatigue and Sleep Issues
Chronic stress is among the main causes of insomnia, but trouble falling asleep is not the only sleep condition that can be caused by stress, as some people tend to be even more sleepy when they're stressed out. Irrespective of the condition, the majority of people experiencing sleep issues will also feel more tired throughout the day.
The causes of stress-related sleep issues are both hormonal and psychological, with high cortisol levels and the activation of the sympathetic nervous system (both hallmarks of the stress response) meddling with sleep hormone levels and one's ability to relax. Fatigue can also occur without sleep issues in people experiencing stress, as reported in a 2011 study.
This type of fatigue can become constant if stress persists, developing into a condition known as chronic fatigue syndrome.
10. Having Cold Sores Often
Skin rashes and the re-emergence of dormant conditions, such as the herpes virus or shingles is also common among people who experience stress or a traumatic event. As we mentioned earlier, stress can depress your immune system, and when your immunity is low, the different chronic conditions, including the herpes virus that's causing cold sores seize the chance to show themselves. If you happen to get cold sores more often than you used to, it can be a sign that you're under too much stress.
11. Feeling Angry, Irritable, or Anxious
Emotional and psychological symptoms are hallmarks of chronic stress, with people who are under a lot of stress also suffering from anxiety or depression. When you're stressed out, you're also more likely to react harshly, be angry and more irritable than usual, likely because of other symptoms, such as tiredness and insomnia in particular, but also due to hormonal fluctuations in the brain.
When it comes to depression sufferers specifically, stress can increase the likelihood of getting a major depressive episode, as suggested in studies both in adolescents and adults, so make sure to compensate for stressful situations if you're suffering from depression.
12. Digestive Issues
We've written about the gut-brain axis many a time, which is essentially a tight link between your gut microbiome and the brain. When you're stressed out, the balance of microbes that live in your digestive tracts is upset, which manifests itself in bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and even heartburn. IBS, in particular, has been linked to stress. The fact that we often tend to eat fast food when we're stressed out doesn't help our digestive system either, of course.
13. Acne, Scalp Issues and Hair Loss
Chronic stress is practically synonymous with chronic inflammation because high cortisol levels have a very similar effect to an actual infection, as discussed above. These high levels of inflammation in the body combine with hormonal issues do often result in hormonal breakouts, which are more common among women, especially around their period. In addition, high cortisol levels also increase oil production in the pores, as suggested by the American Academy of Dermatology, which also causes acne. The same can also cause scalp issues, such as dandruff.
Hair loss can likewise be caused by stress. Traumatic life events can trigger temporary hair loss up to 3 months after the event itself. It was even observed that chronically stressed people, on average, have thinner hair than those with lower stress levels.
14. Clenching Your Teeth at Night
Do you often wake up with a tight or painful jaw in the morning? Many people with higher stress levels are known to suffer from bruxism - an often painful condition that occurs when you grind or clench your teeth. This condition can result in jaw pain, headaches, and even damaged teeth.
If you notice any signs of bruxism, it's necessary to discuss the issue with your dentist, as they can help you prevent tooth damage. Stress and anxiety management is the main preventative methods of bruxism.