7 Subtle Signs That You're Under Too Much Stress
Why it could be stress: You may be holding all that tension you're feeling in your neck and shoulders, a very common problem for women, says Holly Phillips, MD, an internist in New York and a medical contributor for CBS News. With major stress, the tension can lead to compression of a particular bundle of nerves that goes into your arm, causing that numbness and tingling. "Leaning over computers and smartphones for hours a day, and being stressed out while we're doing it, can make these muscle issues worse," she explains. "Our ears should be directly over our shoulders, but with this poor posture, they're a few inches forward. It's an awkward and pain-inducing position."
Other possible causes: Carpal tunnel syndrome—it can lead to numbness and tingling, too. Any task that involves flexing your wrist over and over can cause it. Another potential but less common culprit is nerve damage. But the sources can be serious (diabetes, infections, trauma and autoimmune conditions, to name a few), so if you notice these symptoms, call your doctor and make an appointment to get checked out.
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Why it could be stress: Stress can make you feel impulsive (it affects brain areas that keep our behavior in check), but it can also make you feel the opposite way, triggering withdrawal and a loss of confidence that's usually most noticeable at the office, says Susan Evans, PhD, professor of psychology in clinical psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College. "You may find yourself in a meeting where you'd normally voice your opinions without hesitation, but now you're holding back because you're not sure if what you have to say makes sense," she says. A small study in Neurocase found that simply watching a stressful movie for 30 minutes (in this case, Saving Private Ryan) made it harder to complete challenging word-association tasks than viewing more lighthearted fare.
Other possible causes: You guessed it—depression. Withdrawal is a classic symptom, but usually comes with other signs like a loss of interest in your favorite activities, feelings of hopelessness or changes in appetite.
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Why it could be stress: Your immunity takes a hit when you're stressed, research shows, leaving you less capable of fending off whatever virus is making its way through your house or office. In one study, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, stressed-out people were twice as likely to get sick after being exposed to the common cold. The stressed folks also produced more pro-inflammatory compounds once the virus was in their systems, potentially making sniffles and sneezes worse.
Other possible causes: A consistent lack of sleep can also hamper your immune system. If you're sleeping well, not feeling stressed, but find that your sick-day tally keeps growing, ask your doctor whether a more serious issue could be to blame.
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Why it could be stress: Things may stop moving because your body is diverting energy to more essential organs and systems to help you survive, says David Spiegel, MD, director of the Center on Stress and Health at Stanford School of Medicine. And research suggests that diarrhea may be triggered by the gut's response to a chemical called CRF that the brain releases under stress (your colon is full of CRF receptors).
Other possible causes: Backups can develop from too little fiber (women 50 and younger need 25 grams per day; 51 and up need 21 grams). As for diarrhea, non-stress-related causes include stomach viruses, contaminated food and certain medications. You could also be eating foods that just don't sit well in your stomach, like these 6 items that many people have trouble digesting.
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Why it could be stress: It's rare, and would only happen under extreme stress, but parasomnias (abnormal events like sleepwalking, sleep eating and night terrors) due to stress, can happen, says Rajita Sinha, PhD, director of the Yale Stress Center. Blame a ramped-up, always-on-alert sympathetic nervous system. It flips on your fight-or-flight response, and in the case of incredibly stressed-out folks, it can overpower your body's calming system during sleep, leading to unusual activity, explains Spiegel. "I had one stress patient," he says, "who would get up in the middle of the night when he was traveling for work, get dressed, go down to the hotel lobby and talk to people, and have no recollection of it in the morning."
Other possible causes: Obstructive sleep apnea, medications and certain (though rare) brain disorders—your doctor can help you figure out which one is causing your sleep disturbances.
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Why it could be stress: Your stressed body is pouring out chemicals that help you take action and dialing down production of those that would alleviate your distress, says Sinha. And that means you'll feel pain more acutely, including discomfort from your menstrual cycle. Women with higher levels of perceived stress reported more severe symptoms, including cramping and pain, during their periods, found one study in the Journal of Women's Health.
Other possible causes: See your doctor to rule out causes like fibroids, a copper IUD, pelvic inflammatory disease and endometriosis.
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Why it could be stress: Exactly how tinnitus is linked to stress isn't clear, but research in BMC Public Health found that people who were worried about being fired or moved to another job were more likely to report tinnitus (hearing a noise like ringing, buzzing, clicking or even hissing) or hearing loss than those who felt secure in their roles.
Other possible causes: Earwax buildup, really loud noises and age-related hearing loss. If it's happening often enough to bother you, see an ear nose and throat specialist to nail down the cause.