It’s probably not hard for you to notice when a particular event is stressing you out. Crazy traffic, a final exam, a fight with a loved one; these moments of acute stress make your heart pound, maybe you start sweating, or your stomach clenches up.
But, how do you know when chronic stress is starting to take its toll? In this list, you’ll find a few subtle hints that you might be missing what your body is trying to tell you.
Would You Like a Side of Guacamole with that Cortisol
Although some people do experience weight loss due to stress, many people experience weight gain. Chronic life stress is associated with choosing energy- and nutrient-dense foods, namely those that are high in sugar and fat. Comfort foods like these may have a dampening effect on stress hormones, although only temporarily. Additionally, high stress tends to rob people of sleep, another factor associated with weight gain. If you notice your waistband slowly expanding, it might be time to do some thinking about why and when you choose certain foods.
I’ll Just Have One…Bottle
The link between stress and alcohol use is probably not a surprise to you, but you may not notice that the amount and frequency of your drinking slowly increases as chronic stress creeps in. Have you noticed that your two-nights-per-week alcohol use has slipped into five-nights-per-week? Has your single glass of wine at dinner turned into two or three glasses? Has your evening cocktail turned into a lunch pick-me-up? You might find that your intake has risen at the same pace as work/life responsibilities. Remember that those suffering from chronic are more likely to suffer from addictions as well…get on this one ASAP.
Do you have jaw pain? How about healthy teeth? Bruxism, a fancy way of saying “grinding your teeth”, is a top cause of both jaw pain and tooth decay, and is associated with chronic stress. In a study done on Brazilian police officers, over half of them suffered from bruxism irrespective of the nature of the work they were doing. Even though some were grinding their teeth at night and some during the day, almost 40% of them had no idea that it was happening at all. Tell-tale signs of bruxism are flattened tooth surfaces, tooth pain, jaw pain, and even earaches. If it hurts when you chew gum, sticky candy, or crunchy foods, you might be stress-grinding your teeth.
Netflix and…Anything but Chill
When the world seems like it’s too much, a night on the couch with the latest Netflix series cued up seems like the perfect antidote. This can be a fun and relaxing way to restore energy every now and then, but night after night of staying inside can become unhealthy. Social isolation is common with chronic stress and is widely known as a factor that contributes to morbidity and mortality in humans. It’s that serious. The disruption of social bonds with other humans reinforces neurological factors that lead to poor health behaviors like smoking, excessive eating, and substance abuse, among others. Connecting with others, on the other hand, reinforces healthy behaviors and can actually lead to a longer life.
Slow the Roll
Changing a bad habit begins with simply recognizing you have developed it. The trick is to notice when these behaviors start to increase and affect your overall well-being. Even though you may find that you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms of chronic stress, it’s never too late to do something about it. Believe that you can change today!
Brady, K., & Sinha, R. (2007). Co-Occurring Mental and Substance Use Disorders: The Neurobiological Effects of Chronic Stress. FOCUS, 5(2), 229-239.doi: 10.1176/foc.5.2.foc229
Carvalho, A., Cury, A., & Garcia, R. (2008). Prevalence of bruxism and emotional stress and the association between them in Brazilian police officers. Brazilian Oral Research, 22(1), 31-35.doi: 10.1590/s1806-83242008000100006
Dallman, M., Pecoraro, N., Akana, S., la Fleur, S., Gomez, F., & Houshyar, H. et al. (2003). Chronic stress and obesity: A new view of “comfort food”. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, 100(20), 11696-11701.doi: 10.1073/pnas.1934666100
Matsumoto, K., Pinna, G., Guidotti, A., & Costa, E. (2006). Neuroendocrine consequences of social isolation. Frontiers In Neuroendocrinology, 27(1), 134. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2006.03.281
Patel, S., & Hu, F. (2008). Short Sleep Duration and Weight Gain: A Systematic Review. Obesity, 16(3), 643-653.doi: 10.1038/oby.2007.118 Sinha, R. (2008). Chronic Stress, Drug Use, and Vulnerability to Addiction. Annals Of The New York Academy Of Sciences, 1141(1), 105-130.doi: 10.1196/annals.1441.030
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