You Might Be Chronically Stressed: Here Are The 9 Signs To Look Out For

stress

With our busy lives, most of us are used to being stressed out. You might be so used to it in fact, that you consciously don’t realize how stressed you are. However, your body knows right away and it is screaming at you to calm the heck down.

As a functional medicine expert, I have seen firsthand just how brilliant the human body is and how resilient it is to the stress that we put it through. But it can only take so much. It wants us to pay attention to its warning signs before it's too late. No one wakes up chronically ill and it's vital that we take care of the one beautiful, powerful, genius body that you have right now.

So stop, take a deep breath, and listen to whether or not it’s trying to tell you it’s chronically stressed through one of these signs:

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1.You can’t sleep

Cortisol - your body’s stress hormone - increases during times of stress. And when cortisol is high, your sleepy-time hormone melatonin is low. This is what you want to happen in the morning to help wake you up, but as the day goes on cortisol should decrease and melatonin should increase to help prepare you for sleep.

However, chronic stress doesn’t allow for this reversal to happen. With cortisol on high alert at all hours of the night, it’s no wonder you have trouble sleeping.

2. Your skin’s a mess

If you want to know what’s happening inside your body, just take a look at your skin. It’s your body’s largest organ and can reveal the status of what’s going on underneath the surface since it can take in and excrete toxins. For example, stress can lead to inflammation in your gut that can come through as inflammation-related skin problems like dry skin, acne, eczema, and even psoriasis. Cortisol also increases your skin’s oil production which doesn’t help if you are fighting off acne.

3. Your bathroom habits have changed

Stress-induced gut inflammation doesn’t just stop at your skin. It can also contribute to inflammatory bowel issues including constipation, bloating, and diarrhea, as well as more severe problems like IBS. This is all thanks to the gut-brain axis(1) - the special connection between your gut and your brain - where if something affects one, it affects the other.

4. Your ears are ringing

More commonly known as tinnitus, the on-and-off ringing you hear in your ears can lead to dizzy spells if not addressed. Studies have shown (2) that tinnitus is often associated with ongoing stress but symptoms can thankfully be mitigated by finding ways to lower stress.

5. You experience more headaches

If you’ve ever woken up with a pounding headache you can thank stress for that. Often, stress can lead to what is known as sleep bruxism (3) (i.e. grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw), which tenses your muscles and leads to headaches. Also, research has shown (4) that stress can be one of the main causes of migraines.

6. Your hair is thinning

Stress-related hair loss can affect anyone - male and female - and can be classified as one of these types:

  • Telogen effluvium (5): This happens when your hair growth is stunted due to the hair follicles being in a state of rest
  • Alopecia areata: This is one of the top autoimmune conditions most often triggered by stress and results in loss of hair from the scalp and other areas of the body.
  • Trichotillomania: This type of hair loss is a direct result of someone subconsciously or consciously pulling out hair as a stress response.

None of these types of hair loss are caused by hair follicle damage so hair regrowth can be encouraged through stress management techniques like mindfulness.

7. You always get sick

Nothing is more damaging to your immune system than stress. Stress weakens your immune function and inhibits your ability to fight off viruses and bacteria. If it seems like you can’t catch a break, check your stress levels and assess if they are to blame for what can seem to be a constant cold and flu season.

8. You’re not in the mood

Stress can distract you (6) and kill your mental desire to have sex. It can also mess with your physical desire as chronic stress can throw your sex hormones out of whack (7) causing your sex drive to dip way low.

9. Your cycle is irregular

To start your period, your brain’s hypothalamus releases chemicals to signal your pituitary gland to instruct your ovary to release progesterone and estrogen. However, this finely tuned system can easily go haywire when stress enters the mix and can cause your period to be lighter, delayed, or missed altogether.

Even if you are dealing with one or more of these symptoms, you have the power to take back control of your health by managing your stress levels. Look at these symptoms as your body’s check-engine light and spend some time investing in the care your body is desperately craving - whatever that looks like for you.

As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe. 

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References:

  1. Carabotti, Marilia et al. “The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems.” Annals of gastroenterology vol. 28,2 (2015): 203-209.
  2. Ciminelli, Patricia et al. “Tinnitus: The Sound of Stress?.” Clinical practice and epidemiology in mental health : CP & EMH vol. 14 264-269. 31 Oct. 2018, doi:10.2174/1745017901814010264
  3. Smardz, Joanna et al. “Correlation between Sleep Bruxism, Stress, and Depression-A Polysomnographic Study.” Journal of clinical medicine vol. 8,9 1344. 29 Aug. 2019, doi:10.3390/jcm8091344
  4. Theeler, Brett J et al. “Headache triggers in the US military.” Headache vol. 50,5 (2010): 790-4. doi:10.1111/j.1526-4610.2009.01571.x
  5. Malkud, Shashikant. “Telogen Effluvium: A Review.” Journal of clinical and diagnostic research : JCDR vol. 9,9 (2015): WE01-3. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2015/15219.6492
  6. Bodenmann, Guy & Atkins, David & Schaer, Marcel & Poffet, Valérie. (2010). The Association Between Daily Stress and Sexual Activity. Journal of family psychology : JFP : journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43). 24. 271-9. 10.1037/a0019365. 
  7. Raisanen, Jessica C et al. “Average Associations Between Sexual Desire, Testosterone, and Stress in Women and Men Over Time.” Archives of sexual behavior vol. 47,6 (2018): 1613-1631. doi:10.1007/s10508-018-1231-6

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BY DR. WILL COLE

Evidence-based reviewed article

Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.