To state the obvious, life is really stressful, and many of us (*raises hand*) fall victim to the pressure to “do it all.” Our stress drives us to excel at work, seek out volunteer activities in order to give back, and maintain an active social life. It’s admirable to have a strong work ethic, dedicate our free time to helping others, and be a reliable friend—but if we don’t take the occasional breather, we’re destined to get so stressed out that we reach the point where it’s hard to function. And, well, that’s pretty counterproductive.
Stress takes a mental toll on us, but it also impacts our bodies, and you might run into some physical side effects that indicate you’re way too stressed out.
These can serve as good reminders to take a step back, give yourself a mental health day (or two), and assess the primary sources of our stress. In some cases, we simply need to cut back on our activities. However, it might be possible to maintain your schedule as long as you prioritize some “me time” and develop coping techniques to make each day and week a little less stressful. Whatever you choose, you first have to know what you’re looking for.
Here are five physical signs that your body is way too stressed out:
1You’re suffering from insomnia
Although not all cases of insomnia are caused by stress, there’s a link between the two. If you’ve struggled with insomnia your whole life, it’s probably not stress-related, but if you find yourself counting sheep during periods of intense stress, you probably have situational insomnia.
When feeling stressed out is par for the course, it’s very difficult to “turn off” your brain and drift peacefully off to sleep. You end up tossing and turning because you’re worried about checking off every task on your to-do list or you can’t stop thinking about an upsetting situation that happened that day. This is your body’s reaction to intense stress.
2You’re always sick
Stress weakens your immune system, which means you’re far more vulnerable to any cold, flu, or virus that makes its way around your workplace or social circle. When you’re really stressed out, it’s also way harder to kick the illness you’re fighting, so if you’re coughing and feverish for weeks rather than days, it’s another sign that you’ve got too much stress in your life.
3You’re fatigued or have very low energy
Even if you are getting eight to ten hours of sleep per night, you may feel chronically lethargic or just plain exhausted. Although a healthy level of stress can get us moving and motivated, being too stressed out has the opposite effect. Worry and stress are cited as two common reasons people feel physically drained, and in cases of extreme stress, you may feel as though there’s no end in sight to feeling consistently overcommitted and overburdened. That itself can cause despair, which in turn will make you even more exhausted.
4You have persistent muscle pain or tension
If you find yourself saying, “I need a massage” on a daily basis, stress could be the culprit for that chronic muscle pain and tension. Muscle aches are one of the most common symptoms of stress and they can quickly veer from inconvenient and annoying to unbearably painful.
Stress affects your adrenaline and hormone levels, which has a direct effect on your muscles and nerves. There are also other factors at play. For example, sometimes when we’re super stressed, we slouch more, stop exercising, or sleep poorly. This creates the perfect storm for aches and pains.
5You frequently deal with headaches
As if all those side effects weren’t enough, stress can cause tension headaches, which are also referred to as (you guessed it!) stress headaches. They can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a few days and are characterized by a dull pain or pressure around your forehead or the back of your head.
Although they’re typically not severe enough to prevent you from going about your daily routine, tension headaches are another way your body may be telling you that you’re too stressed out. Don’t let these headaches go untreated, because piling on daily stress will only lead to chronic tension headaches, which is definitely something you want to avoid.
If any of these symptoms sound painfully familiar, it’s time to take stock of what exactly is stressing you out and how you can deal with it effectively. Long term stress is detrimental to your mental and physical health, so it’s important to take care of yourself. It may be an unavoidable part of life, but there are ways to minimize stress and its side effects.