Occasional stress is almost universal among people in modern society, but chronic stress can be a big problem. Stress is difficult for the body, taxing the heart and suppressing the immune system, and that’s not good long term. Chronic stress can lead to anxiety, sleep troubles, muscle aches, and gastrointestinal difficulties. Furthermore, people under stress are prone to engaging in risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking, or drug use.
In fact, in a recent survey, researchers found that stress increases your risk of a heart attack. Encompassing 200,000 participants in 13 studies, the survey found that people in high-stress jobs—jobs that are not only demanding, but also give employees little in the way of control, decoupling responsibility from authority—were nearly a fourth more likely to suffer heart attacks than people working in calmer environments.
There are all sorts of ways the body responds to stress. Headaches and muscle aches are among the most common signs, but there are probably as many sets of indicators as there are bodies, and some of those sets can include things that are rather unusual. Hair loss is one of those infrequently seen signs. Sometimes stress causes an immune response to the hair follicles, meaning the stressee’s hair dies and falls out. Stress can also accelerate ordinary hair loss. Nosebleeds are another occasional reaction to stressful situations, perhaps due to the temporary blood pressure jump those situations can lead to. Stress can also harm memory—chronic stress shrinks the part of the brain that controls short-term memory.
Often the things that stress us are unavoidable, but the stress itself can be managed. Interestingly, just smiling helps. Happiness makes us smile but smiling, studies have shown, also makes us happy. Breathing deeply is another relaxation technique that can help. Consider reducing your caffeine intake as well; it may get you going in the morning, but that can keep you from relaxing later, especially if you regularly use it to replace a good night’s sleep.
Most importantly, cut back. On everything. If you don’t absolutely have to do something, ask yourself if it’s something you have the time and physical and emotional energy for and what you would get from doing it. Remind yourself you can say “no” so that if you do say “yes,” you’ll know it’s your choice.