Stress is the most dangerous toxin most of us will ever face, and its chemical cocktail is so potent it can even change our gene expression and cause us to age faster than we normally would. Here are 11 body signs that stress somewhere in your life is starting to take a toll on you.
#1. Unexpected bumps and bruises
Have you ever discovered bruises or scrapes on your body, but can't remember running into anything? Stress triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural pain relievers, so that an occasional bump can go unnoticed.
Fix it by deliberately moving slower during stressful times, and massaging the spot with a vitamin K cream to help the bruise heal faster.
#2. A sore jaw
Do you ever wake up with a sore jawbone? Or notice that you're clenching your teeth while sitting at your desk? Bruxism (grinding your teeth) is a common stress symptom that often happens when we're focused on something else or asleep.
Fix it by asking your dentist about a nighttime mouth guard – nearly 70% of people who use one reduce or stop grinding altogether.
#3. Bizarre dreams
Have your dreams been odd lately, even a little disturbing? When we're stressed, it's harder to sleep soundly through the night. This throws off our natural dreaming patterns, and allows unpleasant imagery to recur all night.
Fix it by aiming for 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, and avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and your smartphone when it's close to bedtime.
#4. Sudden hair loss
Stress has been shown to alter the uptake of certain trace elements and amino acids essential for hair growth, accounting for about 30% of hair loss in women.
Fix it by taking an amino acid supplement and engaging in a relaxing activity like yoga or afternoon walks.
#5. Aggravated allergies
In a 2008 experiment, researchers from Ohio State University College of Medicine found that allergy sufferers had more symptoms after they took an anxiety-inducing test, compared with when they performed a task that did not make them tense.
Fix it by avoiding the outdoors when allergen levels are high, and experimenting with deep breathing techniques when you feel anxiety coming on.
#6. Surprise breakouts
If you're usually acne-free but have noticed zits cropping up, especially around your jawline and neck, it could be stress. Stress increases the inflammation that leads to breakouts and adult acne, says Gil Yosipovitch, a clinical professor of dermatology at Wake Forest University.
Fix it by eating anti-inflammatory foods, using a lotion that contains salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, and smoothing on a noncomedogenic moisturizer to prevent dryness.
#7. Angry muscles
Is there a burning knot in your back? How about eyelids that feel like they're twitching out of control? Tense muscles and eyelid spasms are both symptoms of excessive stress.
Fix it by trying this corner stretch once every couple of hours.
#8. An upset stomach
Stress triggers stomach acid that can upsets your gut and loosen your bowels. It even alters the way your body processes fat, causing you to store more of it in your abdomen. (Way to kick me when I'm down, body!)
Fix it by watching a funny movie or hanging out with friends who make you laugh. Two reports presented at the 2009 American College of Sports Medicine's annual meeting showed that people who laughed a lot "had more-pliable blood vessels and improved blood flow for up to 24 hours after."
#9. Awful period cramps
Fix it by hitting the gym or just going for a walk. Physical activity can soothe cramps and stress by decreasing sympathetic nervous system activity.
#10. Messed up DNA
Too much stress can screw with your DNA by causing telomeres to shorten. Telomeres are genetic structures that protect the ends of chromosomes; if they shorten too much, cells can no longer multiply.
#11. Weird headaches
Have you noticed yourself getting severe headaches when you're not at work? A sudden drop in stress can actually prompt migraines.
Fix it by maintaining your weekday sleeping and eating habits on the weekends.