We all know the feeling of stress, it can be a normal everyday experience for some of us. We suddenly feel on-edge, we feel strange in the pit of our stomach, we have trouble sleeping, and an overall sense of anxiety. But what exactly are the symptoms of stress? How does stress manifest within your body? The symptoms vary widely; they can manifest themselves differently in each individual case and even as individual cases change over time. The way you experience stress today, may not be the same symptoms you experience in the weeks or years to come.
Essentially when the body feels stressed, your brain has activated an alarm. Evolution has programmed you to enter what is known as “fight or flight” mode. This is the trait that is meant to save you from a potentially dangerous situation, such as running from a predator or fighting off an enemy. These days, although we rarely encounter these specific situations, stress still activates the same alarms and your body still releases a series of hormones to help facilitate these responses.
A few of the chemicals released are adrenaline, which increases your energy, heart rate and blood pressure, and cortisol which moves your body’s attention away from normal processes like digestion, growth and reproduction in order to focus more on the dangerous situation at hand. This response is normal and in a sense, healthy for a typical acute experience, but when stress is experienced for extended periods it can have profoundly negative and severe effects on the sufferer’s mind, body and spirit.
So, let’s review the most common symptoms of stress experienced both in the short and long terms.
1. Upset Stomach
During periods of stress, your brain becomes more sensitive to the sensations in your stomach. This may be so that it becomes more aware of the feeling of anxiety which can often be felt first in your stomach when you feel butterflies. Stress may also trigger sensations of nausea or even vomiting during extreme situations. Your digestive system also stops processing food in the same way, absorbing less nutrients which can have long term effects during chronic stress.
2. Low Libido
The low libido experienced by some people during periods of stress and anxiety happens to both men and women. Both sexes may have increased fatigue, difficulty focusing on romance, experience alterations in their hormones and become less interested in their partner’s advances.
Men, in particular, may experience problems with erectile dysfunction. For many people, simply losing their libido may even increase their level of stress. The underlying factor is that as the sufferer is experiencing a series of negative and difficult emotions associated with their stress, it becomes increasingly difficult to make the switch to feel any positive emotions.
3. Increased or Reduced Appetite
Chronic stress can alter normal appetite and eating routines. Some people find they eat much more than usual, while others lose their appetite completely. If you find you are eating much more, or tend to overindulge, this is likely because in some people the brain releases a rush of chemicals that positively stimulate their brain when they eat. This will momentarily create welcome feelings for the sufferer.
However, if you find you are no longer eating, it is likely because your brain is still in alarm mode, and the series of chemicals it is releasing to stimulate fight or flight responses are actually reducing your body’s normal processes like digestion. Plus, for some people in chronically stressful situations, they constantly feel nausea.
4. Changes in Menstruation Cycles
Because the body releases cortisol when experiencing stress, it can lead to changes in normal menstruation cycles when women are stressed over long periods of time. As mentioned above, cortisol is meant to move the bodies focus away from non-essential processes, such as the reproductive system. Therefore, when women are confronted with extended periods of stress, they can experience more painful, irregular, absent or longer cycles.
5. Chest Pain
During acute or chronic episodes of stress, some sufferers may experience chest pain. This can obviously cause even more stress due to the similarities in sensation to heart attacks. The reason why stress can cause such similar symptoms is due to a series of factors, including tendency to hyperventilate, issues associated with the digestive system, and finally psychosomatic.
This final factor is essentially your mind convincing your body that there is pain, when in fact there is no reason for pain. When people tell you that it’s all in your head, they are right! But the difference is that your pain is real, at least in the sense that the feeling is real. The important thing to remember if you do experience any chest pain, is to seek the attention of a doctor to rule out the possibility of true heart issues.