A little stress can be good for you. Pressure pushes you out of your comfort zone and helps you grow. professionally and personally. But chronic stress at work and at home floods your body in an unhealthy swamp of cortisone, your body’s stress hormone. This toxic chemical can wreak havoc on your health–including a real allergic reaction to your job! But don’t wait till you have a heart attack to slow down: here are some subtle signs that stress is starting to affect your body.
You eat more sweets
We often associate cravings for chocolate and ice cream with PMS, but research done on menopausal women found that their sweet tooth didn’t go away after they stopped getting their periods. So it’s not our female hormones—it’s stress hormones.
This could explain why people who are under a lot of stress find it more difficult to stick to a weight loss program. So if you’re going to go on a diet, do yourself and your body a favor—cut back on stress, or partner your weight loss program with exercise (which burns the fat and can be relaxing, too).
You get horrible menstrual cramps
Research done by a group of Harvard scientists found that people who are stressed double their risk for getting dysmenorrhea, or painful menstrual cramps. That’s because the stress creates a hormonal imbalance. Popping a painkiller (or any of these 15 tips for relieving menstrual cramps) can help for now, but take the pain as a sign to slow down—especially if you’re planning to get pregnant! Hormonal imbalances also wreak havoc on your ovulation, which can make it more difficult to conceive.
Your gums bleed
Chronic stress weakens your immune system, and one of the most vulnerable parts of your body is your mouth—a hotbed of millions of bacteria, and with less immune defenses than your respiratory system. So even if you don’t catch colds, you’re developing periodontal disease. Early symptoms include bleeding gums.
Your stomach keeps acting up
Butterflies in your stomach? Queasiness? Gas? You’re not just nervous about your big presentation. A study of nearly 2,000 people showed that people who were going through extreme stress were more prone to abdominal pain and digestive problems. Apparently, the intestines and the brains have a common set of nerve pathways, so you can actually feel the stress in your gut. (Get the nerves out of your system! Read our article on how to stop feeling overwhelmed at work.)
You’re feeling itchy
Japanese researchers found out that people who were stressed doubled their risk of developing the itchy skin syndrome, or pruritis. That’s because the body makes the nerve fibers in the skin more sensitive—part of the survival instinct to ‘sense’ more in times of danger. Unfortunately, it can be extremely uncomfortable, and may worsen pre-existing conditions of dermatitis and eczema.
You’re getting more allergy attacks
Stress hormones increase the body’s production of the blood protein IgE. This is the culprit behind allergic reactions. So if you’re getting more allergy attacks than usual—including those you haven’t had in years—then blame the stress. Some people may even experience the allergy attack at the office or with someone who triggers a strong feeling of stress. Yes, that includes your boss!
You get headaches on weekends
Your body can actually get used to stress, and experience ‘withdrawal’ on weekends or vacations when your cortisol levels drop. Monitor when your headaches and migraines appear. If you tend to get them on your days off–or after a deadline—then it’s a big sign that your stress is already altering your body chemistry.
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