We have all probably been impacted by stress one way or another. Whether it’s a busy work schedule, an intense academic year, or juggling family responsibilities, stress finds its way to us. You’ve probably felt it affects your sleep schedule or your appetite, but unfortunately, those aren’t the only ways it affects your body. Stress can manifest itself in many different ailments. If you recognize any of these in yourself, it may be time for a bit of relaxation.
Prolonged stress can affect your oral health. Bruxism, also known as teeth grinding, is one of the most common ways. Most people experience teeth grinding and jaw clenching while they sleep and don’t even realize it. Bruxism can cause jaw disorders, painful headaches, and damaged teeth. Stress can also cause gum disease to be more prevalent. Being stressed out decreases the function of your immune system and weakens your ability to fight infections. Thus, when gingivitis or other gum diseases are present, there is no effective way for your body to fight them off. Gum disease that goes untreated can cause severe periodontal disease. Some people suffer from dry mouth due to medications that they take for stress-related disorders. Dry mouth can make your mouth vulnerable to tooth decay and cavities.
Your skin can react to stress in a variety of ways. Some people experience an overproduction of oil in their skin glands due to stress. The hormone that is produced during stress is called cortisol. Cortisol is the agent that triggers the production of oil. This oil clogs pores and can cause acne. Others experience irritation of the skin. The skin can become sensitive and prone to redness, rashes, and hives. Another common skin issue that occurs is a byproduct of another reaction to stress. Some people feel the urge to scratch or pick at their faces when they feel stress. Picking skin, especially if it is already irritated, can cause scarring and inflammation. Especially for those who already struggle with blemishes, picking at the skin only makes matters worse.
You’ve probably felt your muscles tense up when you’re stressed. Stress can cause the musculoskeletal system of your body to bottle up tension. The muscles tense as a reaction to stress because it is the body’s method of protecting the important inner organs. Chronic stress can cause peoples’ muscles to become sore and worn due to consistent tension. This is not only uncomfortable and painful, but it tires the body. Those who tense primarily around the neck, head, and jaw areas can be susceptible to headaches and migraines. Additionally, tension in the shoulders and back can cause chronic pain in the lumbar region. Chronic stress and repeated strain on the muscles can cause long-term conditions that are difficult to remedy.
The connection between the mind and the gastrointestinal system is extremely strong. It has even caused the formation of a new field of medicine called Neurogastroenterology. Stress can cause the gastrointestinal system to slow down causing indigestion and stomach pain. Some people experience bloating and constipation due to increased levels of stress. Others experience a lack of appetite when it comes to stress. This is particularly problematic in younger children and adolescents as they rely heavily on nutrients, vitamins, and minerals from food for development. If you have an already existing gastrointestinal condition like Chron’s, irritable bowel syndrome, and stomach ulcers, stress can worsen the symptoms.
Our bodies react to stress for survival purposes. For evolutionary reasons, we react in certain ways when presented with an impending danger. This being said, more and more people are experiencing chronic stress due to the intensity of day-to-day life. In fact, 20% of people have reported suffering from extreme stress. Chronic stress can age the body much quicker than it would naturally. Lack of sleep, indigestion, muscle strain, skin irritation, and oral issues are just a few ways that stress affects the body. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or anxious, try practicing some breathing exercises or yoga poses to promote relaxation. We could all benefit from pockets of peace in our day.