Tight deadlines, relationship tensions, mounting debt, errand after errand after errand—we all know what it’s like to experience stress.
And yet, in our hyper-driven, 24/7 world, it can be difficult to distinguish between positive stress—the sort that gets you to finish a task in a timely fashion—and negative stress, which can wreak havoc on your health.
With this is in mind, we’ve pulled together five discreet signs that stress is catching up with you—and how to take your life, and wellbeing, back into your hands.
Physical symptoms of stress
1. Sign: Your teeth ache
There’s cavity pain—and then there’s the ache of bruxism. Characterized as a disorder in which you gnash, clench, or grind your teeth, it’s unconsciously done but deeply felt, and is oftentimes due to anxiety and tension. Over time, this can create not only facial pain but also infection and dental abscess.
Strategy: Sip tart cherry juice
For some, high anxiety can trigger stress-eating; for others, a complete loss of appetite. No matter what category you fall into, consider winding down your day with a glass of tart cherry juice. Rich in melatonin, it organically fosters a sense of calm—and may lead to a better night’s sleep.
2. Sign: Your period has disappeared—and you’re not pregnant, either
One month your period arrives on schedule; the next it’s as elusive as those keys you lost in your mad rush through the house.
Here’s why: Stress elevates cortisol levels, which can suppress ovulation and delay—or prevent—your period.
From a biological perspective, this makes sense: “A pregnancy on top of a stressful period in a person’s life is not ideal,” Flo reports. “Your body, in a way, is trying to keep your energy available to address the stress before conception takes place.”
Strategy: Put one foot in front of the other
Literally. Whether you choose a long walk or a short sprint, placing one foot in front of the other has a metronymic effect that can steady the mind and center you during a chaotic time.
Indeed, exercise is one of the most recommended solutions for reducing stress for a reason: A recent study out of Princeton shows that animals on a six-week aerobic conditioning program revealed a “biochemically calm state” that “remained steady even when the subjects were under stress,” Kimberly Goad reports.
3. Sign: The number on your scale has gone up—or down
Feeling suddenly puffy? Consider the amount of stress in your life.
Not only does stress cause some people to overeat (as mentioned), but it also alters the way you metabolize protein, fats, and carbs—and can lead to weight gain.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, stress may cause you to skip meals, thus resulting in weight loss.
Strategy: Give it a rest
Stress can provoke some to slip into self-destructive behaviors, whether that’s smoking, over-imbibing, or downing one cup of coffee after another. While these habits may seem to reduce stress in the short-term, they cultivate major problems in the long-run—and short-circuit your capacity to cope effectively in the here and now. After all, how can you possibly tackle that mound of work when your skull is pounding from a hangover?
4. Sign: You’re inexplicably nauseous
Stress doesn’t just make you difficult to be around—it also ravages nearly every one of your biological systems.
Chief among those? Digestion. The hormones released in a “flight or fight” response send your nervous system into overdrive, flooding your body with chemicals that send blood to your brain and away from your gut (while also instigating tense muscles and an increased heart rate). Stress can also cause the production of more digestive acid, thus resulting in a sour stomach. Identified as “anxiety nausea,” these episodes can be brief (think of “butterflies in the stomach”) or lasting.
Strategy: Eat some avo toast
In addition to quelling your nausea with water (sipped slowly), consider making yourself—or ordering up—whole-grain avocado toast.
Why? Avocado is an excellent source of blood pressure-regulating potassium and B6, which has been shown to mitigate stress by urging the nervous system back to equilibrium. Whole-grain toast, meanwhile, organically fosters serotonin production, thereby potentially giving you a brighter, can-do attitude.
5. Sign: Your earrings are itchy, your skin is red—and is that a rash on your back?
Suddenly experiencing heightened sensitivity to your jewelry, laundry detergent, and heat? Or has your skin broken into hives, for no apparent reason?
Stress may be at play. When your body is on high alert, it releases histamine and may lead to a rash or hives. At the same time, stress lowers your immune response, making you less responsive to good news—and more receptive to possible irritants like lotion.
Strategy: Pick up your phone
…and not to check your work email for the umpteenth time in the day, either.
Stress frequently leads to isolation, and for understandable cause: Solitude gives you a break from distractions.
And yet, this is precisely when you should reach out. Whether it’s found in a phone call to your best friend or in a hug from your partner, connection is key to getting through life’s challenges.
There’s a reason behind this. “Adequate amounts of social support are associated with increases in levels of a hormone called oxytocin, which functions to decrease anxiety levels and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system’s calming down responses,” the American Addiction Resources Center reports.
Even if you don’t have time for coffee with a friend, you’re bound to have ten seconds to send him or her a text. That alone can give you the strength and support you need to carry on—and find calm.