The six physical signs of stress you should never ignore

EVERYONE feels stressed from time to time.

But if you aren't managing the stress levels well, your body will begin to bear the brunt and throw up some red flags.

There are a few areas in the body that stress will show up on if you need to take some time to chill.

From your skin to your sleep, it's important to notice if your anxiety is starting to have an impact on your body.

Dr Stephanie Ooi, a GP at London’s leading MyHealthcare Clinic, says it’s important people know the signs and get help – not just for emotional wellbeing but for physical health, too. 

Dr Ooi said: “Firstly, stress is not always negative. It’s actually a very useful emotion for the body. 

“During periods of stress our bodies experience the ‘fight or flight’ response. This releases hormones including adrenaline which help us react if we face a threat or danger. 

“Imagine a scenario where you step off a kerb and a car comes towards you. Your body reacts by jumping back or running forward, your heart races, your hands might shake and you might start sweating. In this scenario the stress response helps to keep us safe. 

“But stress is now a part of our everyday lives and problems can begin when we experience stress symptoms for prolonged periods of time, when it’s neither necessary nor helpful.”

Here experts have outlined what to look out for and why these areas can tell you that stress levels are too high.

1. Bad skin

A bad breakout? You could be stressed.

Stress has long been associated with many common skin conditions, and can be both the cause of their onset or an aggravator.

Nutritional therapist Hannah Braye previously explained: "Stress hormones such as cortisol are thought to trigger the release of inflammatory compounds by skin cells.

"This contributes to conditions such as psoriasis, atopic eczema, alopecia, rosacea and acne, which can effect confidence and be a source of further stress in themselves."

2. Fatigue

Dr Ooi said: "Stress can be exhausting, not just on the mind but also on the body.

"Stress affects people in different ways but short-term symptoms can include irritability and fatigue and you might have less desire to get up and do things". 

3. Weight gain

For some people who are stressed, eating something is out of the question, but others can take comfort in food.

Dr Ooi explains: “Stress can also change appetite and people may find they start eating too much or too little.

"Being underweight or overweight can contribute to other health complications."

Research conducted by LloydsPharmacy also previously found that over a third of overweight people cite stress as the number one cause for their weight gain, and 2 in 3 eat more when they are feeling stressed.

4. Stomach problems

Our brain and digestive system are connected via the vagus nerve, so when our brain is stressed, symptoms will often manifest in the gut (and vice versa).

It’s no surprise that stress is one of the biggest triggers for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Hannah says.

"Stress can disturb the mixture of bacteria in our guts, reducing the number of beneficial strains, which in turn increases the risk of a pathogenic overgrowth.

"Taking a good quality live bacteria supplement such as Bio-Kult Advanced Multi-Strain Formula, with 14 different strains, can help replenish depleted beneficial gut flora keeping the microbiome in balance and potentially helping with a diverse range of stress related gastrointestinal disorders."

5. Insomnia

While you might feel tired throughout the day, some people have difficulty getting to sleep when their head finally hits the pillow.

Hannah said that getting a second wind of energy just as you are going to bed is a  classic sign that our adrenal glands (which control are stress response) are struggling.

She said: "Stress hormones can cause hyperarousal, upsetting the balance between sleep and wakefulness.

"This creates a vicious cycle, as stressful situations are much more difficult to cope with when you are tired, leading to further stress."

 6. Lowered immunity

Cortisol (our stress hormone), suppresses immune cells, meaning our ability to fight off germs, viruses and other foreign invaders is reduced, leaving us more susceptible to infections when we are stressed.

The pressures of modern living lead many to experience stress on a chronic basis, and this chronic depression of the immune system can have serious consequences, Hannah says.

"High stress is a big risk factor for the development of autoimmune conditions, where the immune system becomes confused and incorrectly starts to attack parts of the body".

Dr Ooi says many patients present with stress-related symptoms and while it can feel like a very lonely experience, it’s actually very common. 

She said: “There are some activities you might find can help alleviate how you are feeling, such as exercise which can build feel-good chemicals in the body.

“Another concern with ongoing stress is that people may be tempted to turn to vices such as smoking or increased alcohol. These carry health risks of their own so are not ideal as a solution for managing stress. 

“Talking about what you are going through can often be very helpful. It doesn’t have to be your family, it could be a medical professional, a friend, or there are some fantastic support groups or helplines available.”

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