March 23, 1997 in Features

Feeling Stressed? Here Are The Signs This List Of Symptoms Can Help You Determine If It’s Too Much

Mary K. Fitch Ottaway News Service

We all know that stress is an inevitable part of life. It’s a given. And usually our bodies can take a fair amount. There is a point, though, when stress becomes too much to handle. It’s a hard point to define, and it’s different for each person.

That’s why it’s important to know your limits. Frequent headaches, chronic heartburn and even aching muscles are just some of the signs that tell you to “slow down.”

“People need to learn more about what their body is telling them,” says Michele Lucas, a social worker who teaches relaxation courses at the Lahey Hitchcock Clinic North Shore in Peabody. “There are things we need to listen to. Our body tells us that it’s going beyond what it thinks is tolerable.”

Doctors outlined the following signals that often indicate your body can’t handle your high-pressure life. Some of these symptoms can indicate serious medical conditions, so check with your doctor before just blaming stress.

Chronic fatigue, forgetfulness or boredom

You might get enough sleep at night, but you still feel drained. You have no energy or enthusiasm. While you might have a virus or a physical disorder, you might also blame stress for zapping your strength, says Dr. Stephen Price, a family physician affiliated with Beverly Hospital.

Stress may also dull your mental functions, says Dr. Steven Kurzrok, a cardiologist with North Shore Medical Center in Salem. You might be forgetful or have trouble making decisions.

“You are caught up with the enormous other events that are attacking you,” Kurzrok says, “so you are terribly distracted.”

On the other end of the spectrum, chronic boredom can also be troublesome.

“Sometimes the lack of change can cause stress. You feel like you’re in a rut,” says Bill Harney, a mental health counselor with Salem Hospital and a professor at Salem State College.

An irritable digestive system

If a little anxiety gives you butterflies in your stomach, image what overwhelming stress can do to your digestive track. Some stress-induced problems include loss of appetite, heartburn, upset stomach, cramps, constipation and diarrhea.

Studies estimate that up to 75 percent of people will experience at least one of these symptoms as a result of stress at some point in their lives.

Certainly, a virus may trigger one or more of these symptoms. But you should recover in a few days or less.

When you find they’re becoming chronic problems, the culprit is probably stress.

Problems sleeping

You had rough day at work and then a big fight with your wife at home. All you want to do is sleep.

But the second your head hits the pillow your mind jumps back to work and starts running down the list of things you need to do in the morning.

“Most people (suffering from too much stress) have trouble falling asleep, and then they don’t feel refreshed when they wake up,” says Dr. Alec Style from The Family Doctors in Swampscott. “Another classical symptom is early morning waking.”

Irritated skin

“The skin is thought to be the mirror of internal conflict,” says Price, the Beverly Hospital physician.

Price says the skin is very sensitive to the body’s chemical changes, which often occur when you’re stressed out.

That means if you’ve got a lot of turmoil in your life, your skin’s going to show it.

Hives, itching, rashes and even acne can all result.

People who suffer from chronic conditions such as eczema and rosacea may find they have flare-ups during times of intense stress.

Frequent infections

Do you notice that whenever you’ve got the most to do, you always seem to catch a cold? Pure coincidence? Probably not.

Studies have found that stress can suppress the body’s immune system.

One study, done by researchers at Ohio State University College of Medicine in 1984, found that medical students at exam time had a significant decrease in the number of T-cells, those that help the body fight off infections.

If you always seem to catch a cold, a 24-hour bug or some other ailment when you’re really busy, maybe you need to downshift your life.

Twitching eyelid

Some people find that during particularly hectic times, their lower eyelids start to twitch.

Price blames adrenalin. As your body produces more of it to cope with stress, it’s possible for the delicate muscles around your eye to get overloaded.

While the twitching is telling you to relax, it often makes people more anxious.

“People think everybody can see it, when, in fact, they are more conscious of it than anybody else,” Price says.

Headaches and muscle aches

“People unknowingly tense voluntary muscles. It could be anywhere in the body, but it’s often the neck and shoulder where people store tension,” says Harney, the mental health counselor.

“It even occurs in sleep. During sleep, people work over stresses that happen during the day.”

Some people clench their fists. Others tighten up their facial muscles. A few folks grind their teeth.

You probably don’t know you’re doing it, but after a while the tension turns into pain. You end up with a headache or aching muscles.

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