Years ago, as a mere psychology student and dealing with academic workload pressures, I yearned for the semester break. Then during my hard-earned holidays I would promptly catch some revolting cold or flu, to which I would spend the rest of the break recovering from. Holidays were spent blobbing around the house recovering from whatever illness I had landed.
Busy, burned-out people tend to get sick often. The more stressed people are, the more frequent they are in catching illness as well as having more trouble shaking it off. Stress lowers your immune system, making you more susceptible to getting sick.
Stress gets to us in weird ways.
Most of us are aware of the more common signs of being stressed; fatigue, irritation, tension, frustration and feeling depressed. We have all felt these at various times of our lives. But, there are other lesser-known symptoms that we might experience that are a sure sign that we have too much on our plate.
1. Binge Shopping
When people are stressed they are usually feeling quite negative about life, so often people search for external things to make themselves feel better. The new shoes might start out as a nice distraction, but when the short-term positive effects hit, they might start repeating the behaviour, so much so that it becomes difficult to control over time. Usually the rush of the shiny purchases ends up not lasting very long, and can become more of a problem than the initial stress. Buyers guilt anyone?
2. Feeling Stupid
Stress can cause your brain to seize up at the worst possible times, and render you feeling a tad stupid. Seized up during a job interview lately? Froze during a public presentation in the last week? Drawn a blank during an exam when you know the topic back to front? A usually intelligent person can move down the IQ scale in microseconds when stressed out. If you’re faced with a life and death situation, instinct overwhelms rational thought. This might keep you from being eaten by a lion in the past, but in modern life this is rarely helpful, particularly when you have a room full of colleagues staring at you.
3. Avoidance of Friends
If you are usually a social person and are finding that you are avoiding seeing the important people in your life, then it is likely your wellbeing is affected. People who are depressed or stressed out prefer to retreat into their comfort zone where they feel safe and not having to give anything of themselves to anyone. Social avoidance is very common when people are chronically stressed, but unfortunately it ends up making things worse. Socialising is one of the key behaviours in stress management – you need your mates!
4. Bizarre Dreams
Dreaming of odd things lately? Zombies, old boyfriends, teeth falling out, dying – or all of the above in the same dream? Strange dreams or nightmares could be sign of stress. Recurring dreams can take a toll on you mentally, especially if they’re upsetting. School is still out in terms of the meaning behind dreams but if you’ve started dreaming a lot, and if they’re bizarre or recurring dreams, have a more detailed look the stressors in your life to see if there’s a trigger. Explore why these dreams are happening to you.
Have you ever tripped up, banged your head or dropped something all within minutes of each other? It is likely that there was too much going on at the time, and you weren’t being very mindful. Stress tends to increase the number of minor accidents in you life because you are in survival mode and not focusing on what you are doing in the moment. A correlational study on stress levels and banging your toe on the edge of the bed would be interesting. A positive correlation I would suspect.
6. Diminished Sexual Desire
Stress affects your sex life and performance, and is often one of the first things to go when people are under pressure. Contrary to popular knowledge, sex isn’t necessary for survival (sorry). So when people are stressed out, the brain switches off all things sex-related (i.e. desire, performance, and even fertility). So, if you are usually proud of your sexual prowess, and it isn’t happening for you right now, perhaps your stress levels are to blame.
7. Tooth Pain
You may be fast asleep, but your subconscious might be at work reliving your stressful day by grinding your teeth down. People have managed to crack their teeth in half doing this! Clenching and grinding away at our teeth nightly throughout a highly stressful time, can actually cause damage to our teeth. So take note if you are having tooth, gums or jaw pain in the morning.
So before you end up tired and limping around with bad teeth and a big credit card debt, it might pay to start doing something about those stress levels. In terms of these lesser-known symptoms, don’t panic if any of them is you on a good day. Occasionally experiencing one or two of them may not be cause for concern but having a number of these symptoms may mean you are under more stress than you think.