Are you experiencing any ailments that seem to have come out of nowhere? Before running to the doctor, you might want to do a self-check and see if it might be caused by stress.
For the last two years, my throat has had a tight feeling. It literally came out of the blue. Breathing, talking, and eating are strenuous, and it caused me to lose 30 lbs. Every medical test came back normal, and the doctors could see that my throat looked small, but had no explanation. I was finally able to see a specialist at Johns Hopkins, and I got some answers. He said the muscles surrounding my throat were tensing up, and it was creating the tight feeling that I had.
He told me this is typically caused by stress. It could be emotional or physical stress causing the muscle tension, and he said that actually most tension in the body is caused by stress. To be honest, I didn’t even notice that I was abnormally stressed out. I think I’d been living in this condition for a long time, and it became my normal. After some research, I realized that your body responds to stress in many different ways.
So, to help my ladies out there experiencing strange ailments for seemingly no reason, I'm here to break down some physical ways your body responds to stress:
If you’re losing hair in clumps or getting bald patches, this could be due to stress. Three different types of stress-related hair loss are telogen effluvium, trichotillomania, and alopecia areata. Telogen effluvium happens when significant stress puts large numbers of hair follicles into a resting phase and later makes them fall out suddenly. Trichotillomania is when stress causes the urge to pull hair off your body. And alopecia areata is hair loss that happens when your immune system attacks the hair follicles, causing hair loss and even baldness.
Stress can alter your hormones, and this often causes breakouts. When your body produces cortisol, it signals your glands to make more oil. Oily skin often causes acne. This is similar to why you may break out on your period – your hormones aren’t always balanced and your skin responds with acne as a result.
One of the easiest ways to explain the relationship between muscle tension and stress is what happens during a car accident. If you’ve ever experienced a car accident, you might remember your body tensing up during the accident. Or if you don’t remember the accident, you might have been sore after the accident due to the muscle tension that happened in the accident. But it doesn’t take a car accident to cause muscle tension.
Most tension in the body is caused by stress.
Just like the issue with my throat, your body can tense up naturally when you’re stressed, whether it’s physical or emotional stress. The American Psychological Association states, “Muscle tension is almost a reflex reaction to stress – the body's way of guarding against injury and pain. With sudden onset stress, the muscles tense up all at once, and then release their tension when the stress passes.” If you’re having tension in your body due to an activity you did, your body is stressed and tensing because of it. For example, I’m a hairstylist, and I tend to hold stress in my shoulders, neck, and back because of the posture I have when working on my clients.
If you’re like me and you don’t often notice when you’re feeling stressed, your first clue might be getting a headache or a sore jaw from clenching your teeth.
Fatigue or Insomnia
Insomnia, a sleep disorder, and fatigue can both be caused by stress. It’s common for those who are experiencing anxiety to have trouble sleeping or to be sleeping too much. It’s estimated that 10-30% of adults have insomnia. Usually, if you can manage your stress, it’s easier to get your sleeping patterns back to normal.
Change in Appetite
When something is bothering you, it’s completely normal for your appetite to change. For some people, this means not wanting to eat at all, and for others, it's binge eating. If you’ve ever seen the show My 600 lb Life, this concept might make sense to you. Many of the people on the show are overeating because of trauma they experienced that caused them to eat as a coping mechanism. In many episodes, Dr. Now requires the patients to go to psychotherapy to address the root cause of their overeating. Of course, this is an extreme example, but it illustrates the hold that stress has over the body.
This is definitely an issue that I experience. I have always had stomach problems, but it’s undoubtedly worse when I’m stressed out. The Sleep Foundation reports that “The gut is loaded with nerves and bacteria that communicate with the brain in order to regulate mood and promote overall bodily health. Stressful moments can interfere with this communication, leading to pain, bloating, and other types of gastrointestinal discomfort.”
Your gut is loaded with nerves and bacteria that communicate with your brain to regulate mood.
It’s very common to get stress-induced headaches and migraines. As with many other things, this can be caused by physical or emotional stress. If your body is strained, it can bring on a tension headache which sometimes leads to a migraine. It’s also normal to get migraines that are related to your emotional stress.
Infections or Colds
Continued stress can alter your hormones (as stated before) and this can lead to a suppressed immune system, which can cause infections. Chronic stress can also bring on high blood pressure, which can lead to heart issues.
How To Manage Your Stress
Don’t let all this information stress you out! Just be aware of it so that you can identify the symptoms you're experiencing and find a solution. There are many things you can do to help manage stress. Some things include therapy, physical or emotional. Sometimes you need extra help to overcome stress. I started physical therapy after being diagnosed with my throat problem, and the therapist brought up several bad habits I didn’t even realize that I had: I clench my jaw, tend to slouch, and tense when I breathe. Thankfully, there are simple practices that will help me fix these issues, and it just took someone showing me.
Emotional therapy is also useful, as a lot of our stress is due to trauma, emotions, or internal narratives. Talking things out with someone is a huge stress reliever. A good counselor can show you healthy coping mechanisms and help you get to the root of your emotional problems.
Taking care of yourself is important when addressing stress. You might want to check on your diet. If you’re filling your body with things that make you feel sluggish and sick, it can contribute to your stress. Exercising is also a good remedy. It will produce endorphins which are chemicals in the brain that can help relieve stress and help your muscles release their tension. Just like your mental state can affect your body, your body can affect your mental state.
Take all of this into consideration if you’re experiencing any odd or unusual symptoms. You know your body better than anyone else, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to discover the things that trigger stress or make you feel off. Don’t let these things feel daunting, but use them to your advantage. Sometimes it takes some extra help like therapy to overcome the stress, but it might just be simple daily habits that make all the difference.
Don’t miss anything! Sign up for our weekly newsletter and get curated content weekly!