Physical Symptoms of Stress

By Val Silver

Physical symptoms of stress occur when your subconscious mind perceives a mental stress trigger, or your body is challenged by oxidative stress from toxins, metabolic processes, imbalances, and poor lifestyle habits.

You are probably no stranger to your obvious mental and physical stress signs.  What are not obvious are the reactions occuring inside your body on an on-going basis. The scary thing about these physical symptoms of stress is that when they are greater than the threshold your body can handle, they can cause health problems. When a resulting illness does eventually strike, it is not always possible to make the connection between the illness and the toxin, mental trauma, or poor lifestyle choices that created it. 

A little bit of stress can help you feel motivated to get things done and move forward. This kind of positive stress may feel invigorating. When stress becomes chronic and severe it can wreak havoc in our minds and bodies. As scientists have recently discovered, some of this damage is permanent.

Physical Signs of Acute Stress

You will easily notice several physical symptoms of stress when you are triggered mentally. Your body's stress response creates changes in your body so it can fight or freeze in the face of perceived danger. As a result, your heart beats faster and your breathing may be more rapid and shallow. You may hold your breath for brief periods. You can test that by taking a deep conscious breath. If it feel relief and an easing of tension, you just interrupted your stress cycle. 

Other signs include:

  • Your muscles get tight and tense.
  • The palms of your hands become sweaty. 
  • You craving carbohydrates which provide the body with fast energy. 
  • You reach for alcohol or drugs.
  • You feel irritable or get indigestion. 
  • Your eyes fixate or it feels like you have tunnel vision.
  • You may feel light-headed, have a dry mouth or an unexplained bout of diarrhea or constipation. 
  • Perhaps you do not sleep that night because you feel hyped.
  • You become more alert and focused on your problem or the task at hand. Some people become 'addicted' to the adrenaline rush because it gives them a burst of energy and feels exhilarating. This physical symptom of stress feels good so you are tempted to keep up stressful behaviors. Don't be fooled. It ultimately leads to 'burnout' and other negative long-term health effects. 

 The physical signs you do not notice as a result of stress hormones flooding your system is a reduction in immune function, blood being shifted from your digestive system and other vital organs to your arms and legs, constricted blood vessels and halted cell repair. 

Mental and Physical Symptoms of Chronic Stress

There is a strong relationship between chronic stress and health. Long-term mental and physical symptoms of stress are not often obvious and may not become evident for years. These hidden symptoms may not reveal themselves until you are faced with a serious health issue or look back at a rapidly aging face and body in the mirror.

Being in a state of chronic mental stress requires a great deal of energy. Most of us have enough energy reserves to meet short-term demands. When stress is a common occurrence, those reserves get used up rapidly. Energy needed for health and cell repair is redirected to deal with stress. This takes a huge toll on our energy level, health and well-being.

Physical symptoms of stressful living may include obesity, gastro-intestinal disorders, sleep disturbances and chronic pain. Continuous and repeated stress can lead to anxiety, depression, irritable bowel syndrome and recurring headaches. Some people develop back pain and other general aches and pains. Others lose interest in sex or have other sexual problems.

Distress can slow recovery from surgery or illness, compromise your immune system and lower blood flow to the heart. For some individuals this can be as dangerous as smoking cigarettes.

Another long-term physical symptom of stress is that the number of cells in the primary memory center of your brain decrease, causing memory loss and impaired learning. The brain is not the only part of the body to age more rapidly under the effects of stress. New research shows that chronic mental stress makes our cells age faster. When the immune systems are compromised by this damage, we are more susceptible to disease.

Over time, the adrenal glands may become exhausted under the constant demand to pump out more adrenaline and cortisol. High cortisol levels are responsible for many of the health problems related to stress and illness.

Physical Body Stress Signs

Your body is naturally well equipped to cope with occasional stress, but modern living taxes that capacity on a regular basis. In addition to the physical symptoms of stressful events, it also has to deal with other causes of stress.

Oxidative stress occurs when your body's available supply of antioxidants cannot  keep pace with the amount of free radicals being eaten or being produced by the body. When it cannot keep pace with its detoxification load, cell damage, cell mutations, and immune system compromise can result. Unfortunately, these are signs you cannot directly see. Diseases such as ALS, Parkinson's, chronic fatigue syndrome, Alzheimer's and plaque build up are, at least in part, symptoms of oxidative stress.

It would be a good idea to assume your body is experiencing this toxic overload to the extent that you have habits or situations that create it.

Psychological, emotional and physical stress all increase free radical production because hormones are released and metabolism speeds up as part of the stress response.

Drugs, chemicals, smog, cigarette smoke exposure, excessive sugar, processed food, eating too few fruits and vegetables, and super-heated vegetable fats all contribute to oxidative stress. Excessive sugar consumption increases a fat known as triglycerides. This fat is susceptible to free radical damage. When damaged, it can cause problems in the arteries. 

As you can see, the physical symptoms of stress can occur in almost every part of the body, whether you are aware of them or not. Some symptoms are fleeting and resolve quickly, others can be signs of lasting damage. 

Many of us greatly underestimate the amount of dis-stress we endure, along with the negative side effects that develop immediately and over time. We are so accustomed to carrying tension in our bodies and minds that we are not even consciously aware of it.

Take that deep breath right now. Check in with your mind and body often for stress signs. Attune to your mindbody signals so you can quickly and easily relieve them. 

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For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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