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Stress Symptoms: 9 Scary Signs That Show When You're Stressed

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By Kristen Stewart; Medically reviewed by Niya Jones MD, MPH

When most of us think of the physical effects of stress, our minds jump to common complaints like headaches and upset stomachs. Stress, however, can affect many aspects of physical and mental health, ranging from hair, teeth, and skin to memory and concentration skills, and even how well we sleep. The good news is while these problems may seem serious, stress relief can lead to real improvements in your overall health and well-being.

Scary Signs Of Stress
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Stress-Induced Hair Loss
Some amount of hair loss is normal — strands fall out over time and get replaced by new ones. However, when you’re under physical or emotional stress the normal shedding of 100 or so hairs a day can speed up to the point where half to three-quarters of your hair can fall out. Known as telogen effluvium, this diffuse and often stress-induced hair loss may not happen right away. In fact, it may take weeks or months after the stressful event for the hair to actually shed. Fortunately, after six to eight months this type of hair loss often improves.

Forgetfulness Due To Stress
We all have our moments of not being able to find our car keys, but research shows that the more stress we are under, the more frequent these mental lapses may become. In fact, not only can long-term stress (over a period of weeks or months) disrupt communication between brain cells, but even several hours of acute stress can affect the brain’s ability to store information and create solid memories. For many people, frequent bouts of forgetfulness can lead to fears about Alzheimer’s disease. But before jumping to conclusions, take a step back and consider whether any chronic stress in your life may be playing a role in memory issues.

Stress And Dental Health
Regular brushing, flossing, and dental check-ups — most of us are well-versed in what it takes to keep our teeth healthy. But how many of us realize that the effects of stress can impact dental health? During the day and even while sleeping, people under stress may clench their teeth or grind them back and forth against one another. This action, called bruxism, can not only wear down and damage your teeth, but may also cause temporomandibular joint problems (TMJ), leading to severe jaw and neck pain.

Skin Problems From Stress
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, our internal thoughts and feelings can actually affect our external appearance. This is particularly true when it comes to stress. One of the effects of stress is skin that’s more sensitive to irritants. Stress can worsen pre-existing conditions including rosacea, psoriasis, and acne, as well as dehydrate the skin, permitting allergens, bacteria, and pollutants to irritate it.

Substance Abuse And Stress
For individuals struggling with alcohol or drugs, stress can wreak havoc on efforts to remain substance-free. Even for people who have abstained for a long time, stress can play a significant role in contributing to a relapse. Interestingly, not only can stress in adulthood contribute to substance abuse, but experiencing a severe psychosocial stressor during childhood can also increase your risk for drug or alcohol abuse as an adult.

Sexual Problems Due To Stress
The effects of stress can extend to the bedroom. While most men may experience erectile dysfunction from time to time, when it happens frequently, its underlying cause should be investigated. Causes of erectile dysfunction can include diabetes, high blood pressure, side effects of certain medications, and chronic stress. Stress can also contribute to a loss of sexual desire in both men and women.

Concentration And Stress
Bad news for stressed-out students cramming for exams — it turns out that being under pressure can affect how well our brains work. Specifically, one small study showed that medical students studying for board exams had more trouble focusing their attention than others who were not stressed. The good news? A month after the stressful period was over, the stressed group’s mental skills returned to normal.

Stress And Reduced Immunity
Excessive stress and anxiety can lead to reduced immunity and an increased chance of getting sick. This link between stress and the body’s ability to fight disease may go all the way back to childhood. Researchers have found that adolescents who were abused or experienced other, intensely stressful situations as children were less able to ward off certain infections even years later. It’s crucial to keep daily stress under control as much as possible to offset the effects of past stress and encourage good health in the present.

Insomnia And Stress
Few things are as frustrating as lying awake in bed, unable to sleep. While insomnia can stem from a variety of sources, one to consider is stress. Stress can cause a number of sleep-related issues including trouble falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, and poor-quality sleep. Try to get stress relief through regular exercise, enjoyable hobbies, and spending time with loved ones.

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