The unknown symptoms of stress

Published December 2, 2014

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Stress can often present itself in obvious ways. You may feel overwhelmed, have neck or shoulder tension, find it difficult to sleep thanks to your racing mind or easily snap at your loved ones. But there are symptoms that you may not necessarily link with being stressed as they appear to be completely unrelated. The truth is that stress can affect all aspects of our health and no part of the body is immune. The following lesser known symptoms of stress may be your body’s way of letting you know that something isn’t quite right and that you need to give yourself a little extra care. By addressing stress you may find that these symptoms go away.

  • Increased frequency of colds – Researchers have found that long‐term stress can weaken our immune defences, which may make us more vulnerable to viruses that cause the common cold1.
  • Poor memory and forgetfulness – High level of stress hormones generated by short‐term stress impacts on short‐term and verbal memory. Surprisingly, it can also enhance memory storage and improve concentration. Persistent stress is a greater problem. If stress doesn’t go away and becomes worse you may lose concentration and become inefficient and accident prone. Researchers have linked long term exposure to the stress hormone cortisol, with the shrinking of the hippocampus, which is the memory centre of the brain.2
  • Gastrointestinal problems – Our brain and intestines are closely related and controlled by many of the same hormones and parts of the nervous system.2 Prolonged stress can irritate and disrupt the normal functioning of the digestive system causing symptoms such as diarrhoea, bloating, constipation and cramping. There is also an association between stress and certain gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).2
  • Skin conditions – Our emotions can have a direct impact on our skin. Stress can worsen numerous skin conditions including psoriasis, rosacea, dermatitis and acne.3 It’s also been shown to impair skin barrier function and have a dehydrating effect, which enables more irritants, allergens and microbes to penetrate the skin, potentially causing problems.3
  • Pain – Stress can intensify joint pain caused by arthritis and other conditions.2 It’s also believed to play a role in the severity of back pain. While headaches are strongly associated with stress, sometimes they appear long after the stressful event has passed,2 making them appear unconnected.

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