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10 Surprising Ways Your Physical Body Says You’re Stressed

Your physical body says you’re stressed by providing telltale signs of that, especially when we’re under more stress than we realize. While stress is a natural part of life, understanding the surprising ways your body may physically communicate its distress signals is crucial for maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

Pay attention to your body’s cues — it may be trying to tell you something. Hearing when your physical body says you’re stressed means you have the potential to feel better.

physical body says you're stressed

1. You’re Having Trouble Sleeping

Stress often wreaks havoc on your sleep patterns. Whether it’s difficulty falling asleep, waking up frequently during the night or experiencing restless sleep, this is signaling that something’s up and perhaps your physical body says you’re stressed. Poor sleep can then exacerbate stress, creating a vicious cycle that’s challenging to break.

Your body’s ability to rest and recharge is intricately linked to your mental and emotional well-being. Racing thoughts, worries and anxieties can make drifting into a peaceful slumber incredibly challenging. This form of insomnia is often a telltale sign that stress has set up camp in your mind, preventing you from getting some much-needed shuteye.

Even if you manage to fall asleep initially, stress might jolt you awake in the early hours of the morning. This fragmented sleep, characterized by frequent disturbances, can leave you feeling fatigued and groggy during the day. It’s your body’s way of letting you know that your stressors are seeping into your subconscious, disrupting your sleep patterns.

Additionally, stress can manifest physically, leading to restlessness and constant tossing and turning throughout the night. The tension built up during the day finds its way into your muscles, creating a discomfort that refuses to let you settle into a deep, restful sleep. As a result, you may wake up feeling as though you’ve run a marathon instead of rejuvenated and well-rested. 

Sometimes these symptoms fade as the stressful situation dissipates or you bring the stress under control. However, for some people, these symptoms are long-lasting, resulting in chronic insomnia, causing additional stress and affecting their daily lives. 

2. Your Hair Is Falling Out

If you’ve noticed more hair falling out than normal, stress is likely the culprit. While it’s normal to shed a certain amount of hair daily — usually between 50-100 strands a day — chronic stress can lead to noticeable hair loss.

Stress can also directly affect the scalp, leading to conditions like telogen effluvium — temporary hair loss. When these stress hormones persist at elevated levels for an extended period, they can disrupt your natural hair growth cycle. This imbalance can push hair follicles into a premature resting phase, known as telogen, where you shed more hair than usual. 

Stress can also affect the scalp directly, leading to conditions like telogen effluvium — a form of temporary hair loss. The stress-induced disruption of the hair growth cycle prompts a significant number of hair follicles to enter the resting phase simultaneously. As a result, excessive shedding occurs, which you may notice when brushing or washing your hair. 

body shows signs of stress

3. Your Digestion Is Off Under Chronic Stress

Your stomach is likely the first place to experience symptoms of stress. We’re all familiar with an upset stomach before a big event or that feeling of nausea when you receive bad news — that’s because stress has a profound impact on digestion. 

When stress triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response, it redirects blood away from non-essential functions, including digestion. This redirection is a survival mechanism, prioritizing the immediate need for energy in response to a perceived threat. Consequently, it can compromise digestive processes like enzyme production and nutrient absorption.

Your gut is home to billions of microorganisms, collectively known as the microbiota. Stress can disturb the delicate balance of this system, influencing your gut bacteria. This imbalance can contribute to digestive issues like bloating, gas, pain and irregular bowel movements. 

The release of stress hormones, like cortisol, can also lead to muscle tension throughout the body, including the digestive tract. This tension can result in muscle constriction in the digestive system, slowing down the movement of food and contributing to indigestion and discomfort. 

During particularly stressful periods you may also notice appetite changes. Some people may find comfort in food, leading to overeating and weight gain, while others may lose their appetite altogether. Both can disrupt your normal digestion rhythm, impacting the body’s ability to process nutrients efficiently. 

4. You’re Less Interested in Sex

While it’s normal for your libido to fluctuate, chronic stress can cast a shadow on your intimate moments. Elevated cortisol levels can disrupt the hormonal balance responsible for regulating sexual desire. Cortisol suppresses the production of sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen, decreasing libido. 

A stressed mind is often preoccupied with plenty of thoughts, worries and anxieties. This mental chaos can make it challenging to fully engage in the moment, including intimacy. The mental exhaustion that accompanies chronic stress can leave you feeling physically drained, leaving little energy for sexual pursuits.

low sex drive due to body being worn out

5. You Clench Your Jaw Can Mean Your Physical Body Says You’re Stressed

A subtle but telltale sign that stress has infiltrated your life is the involuntary clenching of your jaw. This seemingly minor physical manifestation of how your physical body says you’re stressed can have significant implications for your dental health. When under stress, many people unconsciously clench or grind their teeth — a condition known as bruxism. Up to 10% of Americans suffer from Bruxism, and 70% of these cases are a result of stress. 

If left unchecked, bruxism can have detrimental effects on your dental health. Constant teeth grinding can lead to wear and tear, chirping and even fractures. 

The jaw involves a network of muscles crucial for various daily activities, including talking, eating and expressing emotions. When stress-induced tension builds up in these muscles, it can lead to persistent jaw clenching. Over time, this habit can cause muscle fatigue, severe pain and even temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, causing discomfort and normal jaw function. 

6. You Experience Chest Pain

Chest pain is often associated with more serious conditions. However, it can also be an unexpected companion of stress, revealing the profound impact that emotional well-being can have on your physical health. 

When your body releases stress hormones, it can increase your heart rate, elevate blood pressure and tighten muscles — all of which may contribute to chest discomfort. 

Stress-induced tension often takes a toll on your muscles, and the chest area is no exception. The muscles surrounding the chest wall may contract and tighten, leading to a sensation of pressure or pain. Sometimes the pain can seem so severe that it mimics the discomfort associated with more serious cardiac issues like a heart attack. 

In the middle of a stressful situation, your breathing patterns may change, becoming shallower and more rapid. This altered breathing, known as hyperventilation, can lead to tightness or pain in the chest. Although it can be concerning, hyperventilation is generally harmless. 

7. You Get Sick Often Throughout Chronic Stress

Believe it or not, stress can influence your body’s ability to ward off illnesses and infections. If you’ve noticed that you pick up every bug and sickness you come across, it may be your body’s way of telling you to slow down. While acute stress is a natural and adaptive response, chronic stress can undermine the delicate balance of the immune system, leaving you more susceptible to health challenges. 

Chronically elevated cortisol can suppress certain aspects of the immune system. This suppression may hinder the body’s defense against infections. 

body shows chronic stress

Chronic stress can also contribute to low-grade inflammation throughout the body. While inflammation is a natural part of the immune response, prolonged and excessive inflammation can be detrimental, potentially leading to autoimmune reactions, like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. 

Additionally, studies suggest that those experiencing severe stress may be more susceptible to viral infections like the common cold or flu. The compromised immune response can make it difficult for the body to effectively defend itself against viruses. 

8. Your Skin Is Acting Up

Your skin isn’t immune to the influences of stress. The release of cortisol stimulates the sebaceous gland to produce more oil and is a way your physical body says you’re stressed. Excess oil, combined with dead skin cells and bacteria, can clog pores, leading to acne breakouts. If you’re prone to acne, stress may exacerbate the frequency and severity of breakouts.

Severe stress can also cause inflammation and worsen skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and rosacea. Flare-ups of these conditions may be more frequent and intense during extremely stressful times.

It can also lead to the breakdown of collagen and elastin, proteins that make the skin firm and elastic. As these essential components diminish, the skin may show signs of premature aging, including fine lines, wrinkles and sagging. Chronic stress can accelerate the aging process, leaving skin more susceptible to the visible effects of time.

You may also find you have a compromised skin barrier, resulting in irritation and redness. A weakened skin barrier may increase sensitivity and a heightened risk of developing conditions like contact dermatitis. 

Stress may also slow down the body’s natural healing process, including the repair of damaged skin. Wounds, cuts or skin injuries may take longer to heal, leaving the skin more vulnerable to infections and scarring. 

9. You Have Achy Muscles

That sensation of achy muscles is a common and often overlooked consequence of stress. For many people, stress manifests as muscle tension. While your fight-or-flight response is crucial, it means your muscles are in a constant state of readiness, becoming tight and strained, resulting in achy sensations. 

Your shoulders, neck and upper back often bear the brunt of the muscular strain associated with chronic stress. Extended periods of sitting in front of a computer, hunching over devices or maintaining tense postures during stressful situations can contribute to these aches and pains. 

As mentioned above, stress-induced jaw clenching is a common response that can contribute to dental issues — as well as facial tension and headaches. The muscles around the jaw and face may tighten, causing discomfort that radiates into the temples and forehead. 

How to know you're stressed

10. Your Eating Habits Have Changed

If you find yourself reaching for an extra bag of chips or constantly craving fast food, stress may be to blame. For many individuals, stress triggers emotional eating as a coping mechanism. Almost one-third of Americans say they overeat as a way to cope with tough times. Comfort foods, often high in sugar and fat, become a source of solace during stressful times. This emotional eating pattern can contribute to weight gain over time as consuming calorie-dense foods provides temporary relief from emotional distress.

It may also lead to binge eating episodes, characterized by eating large quantities of food within a short period. Binge eating often involves consuming highly palatable, energy-dense foods leading to weight gain. The cycle of stress-induced binge eating can become a significant factor in the development of obesity. 

Higher cortisol levels can also increase your appetite and cravings for unhealthy foods. The combination of hormonal changes and altered eating patterns can cause you to gain some extra pounds, particularly around the abdominal area. 

Conversely, some people may experience a loss of appetite during intense stress. You may have a suppressed appetite, making maintaining your regular eating habits difficult. This reduced calorie intake over time may result in weight loss as a way your physical body says you’re stressed.

Stress often influences food choices, steering individuals toward quick, convenient and usually unhealthy options. The reliance on processed foods can lead to weight gain, as well as potential deficiencies. On the other hand, you may find yourself skipping meals altogether, further adding to weight fluctuations. 

Listen to When Your Physical Body Says You’re Stressed

Recognizing these physical signs of stress is the first step toward managing and mitigating its impact on your daily life and overall well-being. Listen to your body’s messages — and when in doubt — don’t hesitate to seek support from friends, family or even a health care professional.

Your body is constantly communicating with you. It’s up to you to decode the messages and take proactive steps toward a healthier, more balanced life. 

Bio: Mia is a health and lifestyle freelance writer with a passion for sharing practical tips and resources with her readers. Mia is also the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Body+Mind Magazine. Follow Mia and Body+Mind on Twitter and Instagram @bodymindmag! 

About the Author

Mia Barnes

Mia Barnes is a freelance health and lifestyle writer from the East Coast. Mia is also the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Body+Mind Magazine. She enjoys writing about topics related to self-care, mindful living, and overall wellness. When not writing, you can find Mia reading romance novels, trying new recipes or practicing yoga.