When you’re seriously stressed out, you already know how it affects your mind. Stress can make you feel frazzled, unable to focus, and it might trigger already existing anxiety and depression. But did you know there are many sneaky ways that stress affects your body, beyond just your brain?
Unfortunately, stress affects your whole body, and we’re just gonna say it: it’s not a good thing. There are multiple ways stress can affect you — and they extend way beyond your noggin. Whatever is stressing you out can find ways to make you feel pretty sick, and you might be pretty shocked to hear how bad the side effects can be.
Therapist and anxiety expert Jodi Aman gives HelloGiggles the low-down on the myriad of ways that stress can affect your body, and while some are obvious (sleepless nights, anyone?!), some of them will seriously shock you.
Here are six shocking ways stress can affect your body.
1Your skin can go nuts
You probably know that stress can make you break out, but did you know that stress can mess with your skin in other ways? Aman tells HG that acute and/or chronic stress can give you dry skin, and it can also give you you a rash, hives or even make your skin blush.
This happens because stress causes the adrenal glands in your body to stimulate sebaceous oil glands. This leads to more sebum on your skin, which causes — you guessed it — breakouts. Simultaneously all the stress hormones increase your blood flow, expanding your capillaries and making your skin look flushed, and not in a “just been kissed” kind of way. We’re talking more red and inflamed.
2Your hair can fall out — or turn gray
Stress can even impact your strands, and in some mildly terrifying ways. If you’re under extreme stress, you could start to see more shedding in your daily life. Dermatologist Paradi Mirmirani, MD, explained how this happens to WebMD. She said, “Stress because you’re late to work or you’ve got a heavy workload is not going to cause you to lose hair,” she says. Short-term stress (say, getting stuck in traffic or losing your keys) won’t cause hair loss, but long-term stress totally can, like “something that causes you to lose sleep or changes your appetite and raises the level of stress hormones.”
As far as going gray prematurely, it seems this is still speculative (however, see any photo of former President Obama before 2008 and after 2008!) and experts think it would likely only occur over long periods of stress, even though there isn’t currently that much research to base it on.
3Your stomach can go through the wringer, too
Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with stress and anxiety, your stomach tends to let you know before anything else that something’s up…and we’ve all been there. Aman says that you can deal with “burping, diarrhea, and gas,” all totally pleasant and lovely side effects of too much stress. You could also deal with constipation and heartburn, as if you didn’t have enough to worry about, right?
4You have trouble sleeping at night
This one is pretty obvious, but still so important to call out: stress can cause insomnia or negatively impact your sleep quality, causing you to toss and turn all night. According to the National Sleep Foundation you experience hyperarousal when you’re stressed out, causing an unhealthy balance between sleep and wakefulness. Unfortunately, this can have a cyclical effect, because a lack of sleep can definitely make you feel extra frazzled, then you can’t get to sleep yet again. Ugh.
5Your world can seem surreal
This sounds downright frightening, and it’s all due to a hormonal reaction from the stress. “Adrenaline (released during your body’s fight-or-flight response to stress) makes you hyper focus. If you’re not in danger, this hyper-awareness can make people feel like they are losing touch with reality,” Aman tells HG. This is not a healthy state for your mind or your body to be in long-term, and can have seriously scary effects on you. You might float through the day feeling like this is not even your life. Spooky stuff.
6You can lose your voice
The tension caused by long-term stress can affect your muscles, and in seriously bizarre ways. It can cause your throat, chest, jaw, and vocal chord muscles to tighten, affecting your voice quality, sometimes making it shaky, hoarse, or even causing you to lose it altogether. When you speak, it could sound like it’s not even you talking.
Other, more well-known, physical reactions to stress include tension headaches and migraines, weakened immunity (making it easier to catch illness and harder for your body to fight it), weight gain and/or loss, and even a diminished sex drive.
Suffice it to say that stress can seriously mess with you, and you should do all you can to practice self-care and give your body a break in the way that works for you. If you feel overwhelmed at any point, reach out to someone who can help you, whether it’s a trusted friend or a therapist. No matter what you’re going through, you don’t have to suffer through it alone.