A typical conversation between me and my doctor goes like this:
Doc: Okay, so here’s your medication, but you do need to take it easy and avoid stress.
Me: *internally thinking, “How the heck do you avoid stress?”* Um, sure. Thank you.
Let’s be real here. If you’re a normal adult trying to make ends meet and/or are in the process of building your dreams, can you honestly avoid stress? From the moment your alarm goes off in the morning to the minute your head hits the pillow at night, you’re bound to run into impossibly long lines at the MRT station (if you’re lucky, that is. A few days ago, a freak train accident severed a woman’s arm from her body. Yikes), unbelievably heavy traffic,and irate customers or bosses, among other things in between, all of which are sure to get your blood pressure surging.
Frankly, the only way I think anyone can really, truly avoid getting stressed is to be born rich enough to stay in bed all day and have an army of servants at your beck and call, but how many of us can claim that, eh? (And if you are part of that 0.01%, what the heck are you doing here anyway?)
Stress has become such an inevitable part of our daily lives that we’ve come to take it for granted. Isn’t adulting mostly trading complaints about how tired we all are?
But you see, that’s what makes stress so dangerous. We’ve gotten so used to it that cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses rooted in it are taking far too many people by surprise these days, and the average age of people dying of stress-related causes are getting disturbingly and increasingly younger.
So, how can you tell if your Manic Monday doldrums are nothing to worry about, or if you need to ease up and perhaps see a physician? Here are ten signs to look out for:
1. Horrible Period Cramps.
Most women experience some form of discomfort during their monthly spells, but if you find yourself with debilitating dysmenorrhea, it might be best to take the day off. Stress can throw off your hormonal balance, so you can restore your body’s equilibrium by doing stretches and perhaps even a bit of yoga.
2. Sore Jaws.
If you wake up with an achy mouth in the mornings, you could very well have spent the night grinding your teeth. This occurs in some adults during sleep, and is usually exacerbated by severe stress.
As a precaution, ask your dentist for a nighttime mouthguard to protect your teeth and jaw from your nocturnal stress-coping mechanisms.
3. Bleeding Gums.
Elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol can cripple the immune system, making it a lot easier for bacteria to invade the gums and bringing about some hemorrhaging in the area.
Having a toothbrush on hand at all times can be handy in warding off bacteria when your mouth is more vulnerable to it, so be sure to include one in your personal hygiene kit at the office.
4. Heightened Sugar Cravings.
Women are known to crave chocolate when they’re PMS-ing, but stress-induced hankerings for sweets aren’t exclusive to ovulating females, apparently.
Because sugar functions like a drug in the sense that getting a hit or a taste of it can make you feel better, some of us end up reaching for it in particularly stressful situations. This, of course, can’t be good for the long term since excessive consumption of the sweet stuff can lead to a lot of health complications.
Should you catch yourself reaching for one chocolate biscuit too many while pounding away at October’s month-end report, stop for a moment and have a glass of water instead. It’ll calm you down just the same, and you won’t hate yourself for it afterwards.
5. Itchy Skin.
When the body is stressed, its nerve fibers get aggravated, causing an itchy sensation. Anxiety and tension are also known to trigger underlying skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis.
This symptom is a bit trickier to deal with, but one course of action you can take is to replenish your medicated ointments or medications for any pre-existing skin conditions if you anticipate an especially rough week ahead.
Because high stress levels can increase inflammation, it’s not uncommon for uneasy people to sprout acne out of nowhere. On the other hand, it’s nothing a little TLC won’t fix: don’t neglect to wash your face with a gentle cleanser, and then apply some skin-sloughing salicylic acid or bacteria-busting benzoyl peroxide to any errant zits. Finish off with a non-comedogenic moisturizer to prevent your skin from drying up.
7. Severe Allergic Reactions.
Apart from problematic skin conditions, worse-than-usual allergies are another consequence of excessive stress. Levels of IgE, a blood protein that causes allergic reactions, tend to rise whenever the body is under duress, so as with underlying skin conditions, be sure to have your antihistamines on hand.
8. Weekend Migraines.
Here’s the thing: a sudden drop in stress levels is bad for you too. Migraines are one effect of such, for instance, since they often plague sufferers on weekends.
Treating weekend migraines is akin to dealing with jet lag: it all boils down to sticking to your weekday sleeping and eating schedule so that your body’s circadian rhythm isn’t throw off so abruptly.
9. Unpleasant Dreams.
Stress is a literal nightmare. It not only interrupts your sleep patterns, but it can also wreak havoc on your psychological well-being, making it all too easy for your brain to conjure up horrible images in slumber.
Thus, if you find yourself encountering Pennywise in your dreams a lot more often, you need to exercise better self-care. Avoid taking caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime, and try taking a warm bath before sleeping to calm both your mind and body.
It could be irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, or it could just be that high-strung supervisor of yours who likes to yell at you for the smallest mistake.
A concrete connection between stress and tummy trouble has yet to be defined, but some physicians have opined that since the brain and the stomach share nerve pathways, the intestines may pick up on the same signals whenever the mind reacts to stress. In cases like these, you can turn to meditation as a remedy to help keep your thoughts at peace. Staying away from spicy food that might irritate your bowels might be a good idea too.
Our frantically-paced culture might goad us into wearing our everyday exhaustion as badges of honor, but we should all cut ourselves some slack every once in a while, if only to remember why we persevere in the first place.