We all feel stressed from time to time. What with the demands of work, family, and maintaining a social life, we are leading increasingly hectic lives. However, allow yourself to get too stressed and you could be damaging your health. Left unchecked, stress can cause both physical and mental health problems so being attuned to the symptoms can give you a heads up to deal with stress before it leaves its mark on your body or mind.
Ever noticed that when you’re stressed you tend to catch colds or suffer from cold sores far more frequently? There are a couple of reasons for this. Our body’s way of coping with stress is to release catecholemines, the hormone which regulates the immune system, but by doing this over a long period of time it affects their ability to work efficiently.
Stress also shrinks the thymus, the gland which produces the white blood cells which fight infection, and impairs the genes which helps white blood cells to reproduce. If you find that you feel ill much of the time, try to fit in some exercise – not only will it help to reduce your stress levels in the first place, it will also strengthen your immune system.
Short-term memory loss is most commonly associated with high stress levels – forgetting important information from a meeting, the name of someone you’ve just been introduced to, or what your partner asked you to pick up from the shops on your way home can be all too common when feeling stressed. An excess of the stress hormone cortisol can damage the peculiar sounding hippocampus, the part of the brain which controls short-term memory, leading to difficulty in storing and retrieving new and recent memories.
Hair loss and problem skin
As anyone who has ever woken up after yet another stressful day and looked in the mirror to be faced with dull skin, puffy eyes, and limp hair knows, stress can often manifest itself in our appearance. A rise in the stress hormone cortisol can stimulate oil production, causing acne and other skin problems, and stress can also impair the barrier function of the skin, leading to water loss and thus dry or dehydrated skin.
Under particularly stressful circumstances, hair can enter telogen phase, during which the body diverts its focus from growing hair to concentrate on recovery. Hair therefore does not grow back after it sheds, leading to thinning or even bald patches.
Nausea and vomiting
Most people have experienced ‘butterflies’ in their stomach when nervous and feeling queasy before a big presentation or a job interview isn’t unusual. However, if you begin to vomit or dry heave regularly, it could be stress manifesting itself physically. Extreme stress sends the body into overdrive, which can affect all parts of the body, including the digestive system which can go into gastrointestinal distress.
Journalist Emily Buckley is writing for Pinnacle Life, one of New Zealand’s leading life insurance organisations.