How does stress manifest physically?

From a tough day at work to financial and relationship issues, stress is how your body responds to emotional and physical challenges. And although we all experience stress, sometimes it can be difficult to identify. Here are five ways stress may manifest physically and tips to manage it.

1. Psoriasis

What it is: An autoimmune skin condition where a rapid build-up of skin cells may cause itchy, dry patches on your skin. This may include the knees, elbows, scalp and trunk.

How does stress play a role? Psoriasis is triggered by an immune response and since stress impacts the immune system, it may cause flare-ups and trigger psoriasis. A study published in the International Journal of Dermatology found that psoriasis is diagnosed in up to 88% of people within a year of a stressful event.

2. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

What it is: IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder that impacts your digestive system. Common signs and symptoms include abnormal bowel movements, which may cause constipation, diarrhoea or irregular bathroom trips. Cramps, pain and discomfort are usually experienced as a result.

How does stress play a role? Chronic stress impacts your gut by increasing the release of hormones such as corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), which impacts bowel function and immune response. Too much CRF causes bowel movements to malfunction and may make the gut more sensitive to certain foods.

3. High blood pressure

What it is: Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure is caused by blood pushing forcefully against the artery walls. It often has no symptoms and is diagnosed when your blood pressure is above 140/90.

How does stress play a role? Long-term chronic stress may cause an increased heart rate and elevated levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, both of which can contribute to raised blood pressure. Stress may also cause inflammation in the coronary arteries.

4. Tension headache

What it is: It’s pain, tension and pressure felt around the head, neck and forehead, and it’s usually a response to chronic stress or anxiety.

How does stress play a role? Chronic stress causes your muscles to tense up. This is your body’s way of protecting you from injury or pain (a state of guardedness). Taut muscles in the neck, shoulders and head for long periods could trigger tension headaches.

5. Acid reflux

What it is: Acid reflux happens when acid travels from the stomach into the oesophagus. It feels like a burning sensation in your chest and you may regurgitate food or liquids. It commonly happens after eating spicy, acidic, fatty, oily or rich foods.

How does stress play a role? Stress may decrease the production of prostaglandins, a substance that protects the stomach from the effects of acid. Stress may also lead to comfort eating, making you more likely to reach for foods that trigger acid reflux.

How to relieve the pressure

Over time, chronic stress takes a toll on your emotional and physical health, so it’s important to manage it. Lowering your stress levels is the best way to prevent and manage stress-related conditions. Try these tips:

  • Identify your stress triggers (stressors) by writing down what makes you feel overwhelmed or anxious. Next, try to combat these triggers. For example, if an unpaid debt is a trigger, commit to cutting down on expenses and paying off more of your debt.
  • Express your feelings, as bottling up emotions can make you feel anxious, stressed and overwhelmed.
  • Commit to a work-life balance as far as possible. This could look like prioritising self-care, pursuing hobbies you enjoy, switching off email notifications after hours and spending time with loved ones.

Note: Talk to your doctor if you experience stress-related conditions for definitive diagnosis, treatment and advice.

For more advice related to stress, read these helpful articles:

References:

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