Whether or not life is officially more stressful in the twenty-first century, it certainly feels that way. Ask how someone is, and more often than not they’ll mention ‘stress’ in their reply and while smart phones empower us in many ways, they also make it difficult to take a break from traditional sources of stress such as the workplace. We do talk a lot about how it can make us feel frazzled and have a negative impact on our relationships. However, we give less time to how stress may be harming us physically – and here are just five ways it can happen.
- Weight gain. Many people overeat when they are anxious. However, the issue of putting weight on when stressed is more complex than simply ignoring calorie consumption: when we are stressed we produce more cortisol which causes our body to store excess fat away in our bellies. The health implications of this type of fat distribution are more serious than if it went to the legs and hips.
- Damaged teeth. While a good night’s sleep can help counter stress, sleep is not always the escape we hope it is. Higher levels of stress can cause you to grind your teeth during the night, causing wear and tear and, potentially, jaw pain.
- Headaches. How often have you said, ‘It’s giving me a headache’ when things get on top of you? The reason is that anxiety instructs the nervous system to trigger a ‘fight or flight’ response, characterised by shallowness of breath, an increase in heart rate and blood pressure – and in muscle tension. This tightens the muscles in the neck, head and shoulders causing a stress headache.
- Insomnia. You may be caught in a vicious circle wondering what came first, the sleeplessness or the stress… Good sleep is essential to stress management, but anxiety accelerates insomnia.
- Hair loss. Stress can cause a condition called telogen effluvium where hair stops growing during the growth phase of its natural cycle, falling out a few months later during the shedding phase leaving thinner hair. It can also cause alopecia areata where the hair falls out in patches. Growing hair is part of the body’s natural cycle; just as with any other of your biological systems, imbalances and deficiencies can cause disruption. So if you are concerned that you are shedding more hair than is normal, take a look at your lifestyle and consider whether stress may be playing a part.