It’s easy to get stressed. Especially in these troubling times. And whether you’re in a crippling job, or simply running low on energy, you may not be aware of how stress could be affecting your body right now.
The truth is, stress is only becoming, well, more stressful.
In 2018, 13% of Australians aged 18 and over reported high or very high levels of psychological distress. According to the ABS, that’s up 11% from 2014.
But enough numbers. Let’s take a deeper look.
What kind of stress?
Just like there are multiple different triggers for stress, there are several types of stress.
Here are some common ones to look out for:
- Acute stress. You’ve definitely had this one before. It’s what happens when we enter a new or challenging situation and we ‘freak out’. Acute stress can happen from enjoyable or thrilling things as well – like going skydiving.
- Episodic acute stress. This is basically long periods of acute stress. They can come in waves but are often characterized by challenging circumstances or events in your life which can compound into higher stress levels.
- Chronic stress. Chronic stress is when you are stressed for long periods of time, usually without any break, often giving way to headaches, high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety.
How is stress impacting my body?
All types of stress can impact the body in unique ways. The main one we’ll focus on here is chronic stress – as this can have the most devastating impact on your life. Here are some of the ways that stress can negatively affect the body.
Headaches are often the first sign that you’re under the pump. Stress-triggered migraines and tension headaches are typical of a stressful day or when something isn’t going to plan.
But severe headaches can also show up when there’s referred pain from the neck or shoulders, which can be a sign that something else, and potentially more serious, is the matter. If your usual relaxation techniques or a good night’s sleep can’t shake it off, you should visit your physio for neck pain so they can take a deeper look.
Chest pains are a more negative side effect of stress-related episodes and should always be taken seriously. As is often the case with stressful experiences, our muscles begin to seize up and become tense until we relax again. During a particularly stressful time, you may notice your chest becoming tighter, however, if you experience any sharp or chronic pain you should focus on taking deep breaths and speak with a doctor as soon as possible.
Muscles become tense when they’re under stress. But that stress doesn’t always have to be self-induced like when doing a workout. Just feeling stressed can automatically tighten up your muscles, which is actually a healthy response, because it means your body is ready to engage with potential danger.
But if you’re in constant stress mode, your tense muscles begin to suffer and the stress can become exhausting. Depending on your body type and your situation – you might find that certain areas of your body are affected more than others. For example, chronic stress could cause you to feel pain in your jaw, neck, or stomach.
Joints are normally used to being under stress every now and then. It’s what they’re good at. But prolonged periods of stress can have adverse effects on your joints. Stress can lead to inflamed muscles and can put increased pressure on your joints, causing pain and mobility issues. Stress can also make existing conditions or injuries worse – for example, exacerbating the effects of arthritis.
Being in a state of stress negatively affects sleep quality and the number of hours of sleep we get.
This can have a domino effect on the rest of the body. First up, no one likes being tired, and getting through the day on little sleep in itself can be a stressful thing – especially if you’re in a demanding job. A lack of sleep can also affect our body’s ability to repair other issues, like an injury or sickness.
When we are stressed, our bodies enter a heightened state of alert. The muscles in our spine and lower back tense up in anticipation of something bad happening. This is known as Tension Myositis Syndrome. This syndrome can become entrenched in your lifestyle and follow cycles of pain which can feed into all areas of life. It can end up affecting not just your mobility, but your mood, and social life too.
Should I see a physiotherapist?
Stress can have overwhelming consequences. And leaving it to compound over time will only make matters worse.
Getting to the root of the problem can be tough, and while stress is often the root cause, overcoming any physical manifestations of stress is equally important.
That’s why it’s very important to see a physiotherapist if you start to feel like the pain is adversely affecting your everyday activities.
Reach out to a local physiotherapist and start de-stressing today.