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9 tell-tale signs that you’re stressed

by Harry 7 minutes read

Last updated: 31 May, 2022

In today’s fast-paced world, stress is far too common and with all of this weight on your shoulders, your mind and body can pay a high price. To help deal with the overwhelming nature of life, we can learn to recognize stress which can help us start to deal with the effects.

Firstly, we should probably identify exactly what stress is:

Stress is our body's reaction to harmful situations -- whether they’re real or perceived. When you sense danger in any form, physical or mental, the body’s defences kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as “fight-or-flight.” This is the body’s way of protecting you, and if it’s working properly, it helps you stay focused and alert in emergency situations.

Stress also occurs on a more prolonged scale, where we don’t realise the ‘fight-or-flight’ response at all. This tends to result from things like work-related stress or relationship struggles, where you aren’t in immediate danger, but your mind holds onto stressful moments long after they occur. This tends to manifest itself in repeated behaviour, with habits forming to help cope with and overcome stressful environments – such as smoking or biting our nails.

For all forms of stress, these following signs are easy to notice and may help identify stress and therefore help to address it as soon as possible.

For help dealing with stress once you have identified the cause, check out our 8 Great Stress Busters.

9. Feeling tired

Stress can have a huge physiological effect on our body – by releasing hormones into your bloodstream which accelerate your heart rate and your breathing, it doesn’t take long for our bodies and minds to get worn out.

On the flip side, stress can also make it much harder to sleep as it keeps our mind running long into the night. Stress has been found to activate the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis in the brain. This plays a part in sleep-wake regulation, meaning that you could experience sleep loss, as you repeatedly go over the same issue in your head to try to find a solution. As a result, stress can leave you feeling tired for days on end.


8. Headaches

Stress headaches are hugely common in stressful environments. As a result of your brain working overtime, headaches are almost inevitable. Lasting anything from half an hour to a few hours these headaches tend to feel like pressure on either side of the head and can often be associated with pain in the neck and/or shoulders.

If you regularly suffer from headaches, there could be something causing considerable stress in your life.

7. Irritability

To put it simply, stress can have huge effects on our mood throughout the day.

When we are stressed, our nervous system is hyper-responsive making everything seem more intense. This makes us susceptible to feeling pressured, which makes us much more reactive to the smallest of things. Other effects like lack of sleep can also lead to being more irritable.

6. Becoming less social

This can go hand in hand with being more irritable – if you feel that interactions with others are making you more irritated than usual, you may begin to avoid others altogether. When everything feels like it’s getting too much, it’s a natural inclination to hide away, particularly if the stressor that you are reacting to is social. But social withdrawal will usually have a negative effect on your life, which can make things worse all-round.


5. Changes to eating habits

It’s very common for people who are stressed to have a poor diet and a key contributor to this is that stressed people are often short on time, leading them to eat unhealthy fast foods.

There’s also a short-term hormonal effect that can take place under stress, which causes us to lose our appetite. A part of the brain called the hypothalamus produces a hormone that releases corticotropin, which suppresses appetite.

On the other hand, long-term stress can lead to the infamous phase of ‘stress eating’. People who suffer from chronic stress release cortisol, which can oppositely increase your appetite, especially for sweet and starchy foods.

If you do find yourself snacking more, check out our guide to healthy snacking here.


4. Autoimmune diseases

Stress can have some very severe effects on our immune system. As stress releases higher amounts of cortisol, the immune-supporting DHEA cannot be released at the same time. This is why those under stress tend to catch colds more easily and also find them tougher to shake off.

A 2020 Harvard study into the connection between autoimmune diseases and stress found that individuals diagnosed with a stress-related disorder:

  • were roughly 50% more likely to be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease
  • were more likely to develop multiple autoimmune diseases
  • had a higher rate of autoimmune disease if younger.

3. Loss of libido

The hormonal changes caused by stress can put our mind and body out of sync. Feeling extra tired, more irritable, and antisocial unsurprisingly leads to less interest in our sex lives.

2. Teeth grinding, nail biting and the like

Stress can manifest itself in so many ways, but one of the most obvious is the nervous and stressful habits we share on a global scale.

If you find yourself biting nails, grinding teeth, picking skin, or simply tapping your foot repeatedly, you may be stressed out and not even know it.

Nail biting 2

1. Feeling panicked and anxious

When you experience stress, both your heart rate and breathing rate can be increased, which can often be quite distressing. If a severe feeling of anxiety comes to the surface, you can even have panic attacks which are very intense doses of stress all at once. In this case, you may feel shortness of breath and may begin hyperventilating. Panic attacks tend to be most easily calmed by removing oneself from the situation and actively focusing on slowing your breathing.

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