Written by Dr. Jenna Montana
Maybe we can understand on an intellectual level we’re all a little maxed out, but these 5 bodily signs can present themselves even if we think we’re not stressed. Everyone hears the word “stress” and envisions a different picture. And everyone’s 100% looks a little different, but allow me to do a very watered down version of human physiology for you: Environmental Stress + Your Brain/Awareness = Adrenal Stimulation.
Our adrenal glands are atop each kidney and are responsible for all sorts of neat stuff—sex hormone production, regulating blood pressure, and helping us wake up in the morning. It’s a beautiful thing. But, like just about everything else, can start to approach too much of a good thing when they’re working overtime.
In a perfect world, the body and mind are exposed to minor to moderate “stress” or stimulation (think: exercising, learning a new skill, extreme temperatures, sex, problem solving, falling in love, playing with our pets) every day or so, which helps us improve ourselves and thrive. Maybe every now and then we get exposed to a super intense negative stressor, “duress,” which causes a flood of stress hormones and the inevitable stress hangover.
However, in our modern, far from perfect, world, prolonged adverse stimulation (think: traffic jams, home repairs, unexpected financial expectations, resentment, loneliness, processed food, smoking, drinking) shifts bodily priority into survival from a place of calm.
- You get biweekly head colds. Do you tend to get over one head cold just to come down with another? Your immune system’s outta whack, sis. Prolonged stress, emotional or physical (looking at you, weekend warriors), causes a temporary depression of the immune system, leaving us vulnerable to opportunistic bugs lurking in the shadows. Something our immune system could easily tackle on a calm day is no match for a wimpy immune system beat down from an intense bout of mental (or physical) gymnastics. Perfect example: ever start a workout routine strong just to fall ill one week later? Thank your stress hormones. Or don’t.
- Your jaw is clicking. Researchers have identified a pattern between incidence of temporomandibular joint (TMJ = your jaw) dysfunction and anxious tendencies. Tongue thrusting, cheek chewing, teeth grinding and clenching, are all methods the brain uses to provide stimulation to the anxious or busy mind. Think of it as a biological leftover from when we were babies looking for a pacifier. When the jaw is in perpetual motion due to these habits, this taxes the jaw in ways that can result in popping, clicking, and pain at the joint of the jaw that lives just in front of your ear. Additional symptoms might be headaches, tooth marks on the sides of your tongue, and neck pain.
- You think one bowel movement a week is normal. Not to bring about any potty shame for you, but I promise, I’m just looking out for your health here. Going #2 is an absolute must, not just for elimination purposes, but with new research coming out daily about the gut-brain axis, it’s likely good for clearing the mind as well. Multiple resources cite the tight relationship between mental stress, controlling behavior, and tendency toward constipation.
- Sigh! You’re sighing. Frequent sighing can be as sign of shallow breathing. When the fight-or-flight pattern is switched on in the body, we recruit the muscles of our neck and shoulders to take a breath, which only gets us so far. In fact, we are supposed to breathe by using the diaphragm (a muscle in your abdomen) which, when contracted, draws air into your lungs. (Ask your yogi about “belly breathing”) In an effort to increase ever-important oxygen due to prolonged shallow breathing, the body responds by inducing a sigh.
- Did you just wink at me? Or was that a twitch? Twitchy eyelids are a common sign of sleep deprivation, which rarely exists in the absence of stress. Always consult with a trusted health practitioner to rule out other causes of overactive muscles, but more often than not, I see this in patients under an immense amount of stress.
So you checked one or five of these boxes—now what? Ask yourself an incredibly important question: what constructive hobbies do I have that help me relieve stress? Is it working with your hands? Is it interacting with the natural world? Is it just more dang sleep? If those answers seem out of reach for you, or you have these hobbies and still struggle with these physical symptoms, you may need someone to work with you to find and address the root cause.
Dr. Jenna Montana practices functional medicine in Roanoke. She holds a Doctorate of Chiropractic and Master’s degree in Nutrition from Logan University. Additionally, she uses acupuncture and nutritional counseling to enhance her treatment offerings in her practice, Cultivate Wellness. Find her on Instagram @dr.jennamontana