The occasional manic Monday is a fact of modern life.
But if you’re under chronic stress—suffering a daily assault of stress hormones from a demanding job or a personal life in turmoil—the symptoms may be subtle, says Dr Stevan E Hobfoll, chairman of the department of behavioural sciences at Rush University Medical Centre.
If you experience any of the signs that follow, take some time out every day to relax, whether that means going for a walk or simply turning off your phone, he says.
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STRESS SYMPTOM: WEEKEND HEADACHES
A sudden drop in stress can prompt migraines, says Dr Todd Schwedt, director of the Washington University Headache Centre.
Stick closely to your weekday sleeping and eating schedule to minimise other triggers.
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STRESS SYMPTOM: AN ACHY MOUTH
A sore jaw can be a sign of teeth grinding, which usually occurs during sleep and can be worsened by stress, says Dr Matthew Messina., a consumer advisor to the American Dental Association.
Ask your dentist about a nighttime mouth guard—up to 70 per cent of people who use one reduce or stop grinding altogether.
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STRESS SYMPTOM: ODD DREAMS
Dreams usually get progressively more positive as you sleep, so you wake up in a better mood than you were in when you went to bed, says Dr Rosalind Cartwright, an emeritus professor of psychology at Rush University Medical Centre.
But when you’re stressed, you wake up more often, disrupting this process and allowing unpleasant imagery to recur all night.
Good sleep habits can help prevent this; aim for seven to eight hours a night, and avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.
STRESS SYMPTOM: BLEEDING GUMS
According to a Brazilian analysis of 14 past studies, stressed-out people have a higher risk of periodontal disease.
Chronically elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol may impair the immune system and allow bacteria to invade the gums, say researchers.
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If you’re working long hours and eating dinner at your desk, keep a toothbrush on hand. And “protect your mouth by exercising and sleeping more, which will help lower stress,” says Dr Preston Miller, past president of the American Academy of Periodontology.
STRESS SYMPTOM: OUT-OF-NOWHERE ACNE
Stress increases the inflammation that leads to breakouts and adult acne, says Dr Gil Yosipovitch., a clinical professor of dermatology at Wake Forest University.
Smooth your skin with a lotion containing skin-sloughing salicylic acid or bacteria-busting benzoyl peroxide, and add in a noncomedogenic moisturiser so your skin doesn’t get too dry.
If your skin doesn’t respond to treatment within a few weeks, see your doctor for more potent meds.
STRESS SYMPTOM: ITCHY SKIN
A Japanese study of more than 2,000 people found that those with chronic itch (known as pruritis) were twice as likely to be stressed out as those without the condition.
Although an annoying itch problem can certainly cause stress, experts say it’s likely that feeling anxious or tense also aggravates underlying conditions like dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis.
“The stress response activates nerve fibers, causing an itchy sensation,” explains Dr Yosipovitch
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STRESS SYMPTOM: WORSE-THAN-USUAL ALLERGIES
In a 2008 experiment, researchers from Ohio State University College of Medicine found that allergy sufferers had more symptoms after they took an anxiety-inducing test, compared with when they performed a task that did not make them tense.
Stress hormones may stimulate the production of IgE, a blood protein that causes allergic reactions, says study author Dr Janice Kiecolt-Glaser
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STRESS SYMPTOM: STOMACH ACHES
Anxiety and stress can cause stomach aches, along with headaches, backaches, and insomnia.
One study of 1,953 men and women found that those experiencing the highest levels of stress were more than three times as likely to have abdominal pain as their more relaxed counterparts.
The exact connection is still unclear, but one theory holds that your intestines and your brain share nerve pathways; when your mind reacts to stress, your intestines pick up the same signal.
Because of this link, learning to manage stress with the help of a clinical psychologist, meditation, or even exercise can usually help relieve stomach troubles, too.
However, if you have frequent stomach aches, see your doc to rule out food allergies, lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, or an ulcer.