Everyone deals with stress, but heed these seven symptoms from John Grohol, PsyD of Psych Central to determine how your body handles stress.
Stress is a killer. Along with stoking inflammation and raising your risk for heart trouble, stress also contributes to weight gain and fuels metabolic diseases like diabetes. Pick a health issue—physical or psychological—and there’s probably a study out there linking it to stress.
But not all stress is toxic. In fact, research suggests a little run-of-the-mill stress is something we all deal with, and may even be protective of your health. It’s the long-term, chronic stress that’s problematic.
So how can you tell if your stress levels are worth worrying about? That can be tricky. “Stress is one of those things that can creep up on you,” says John Grohol, PsyD, a mental health expert and founder of PsychCentral.com. “Symptoms of stress vary widely, and everyone deals with it differently.”
Here’s what to watch out for.
YOUR MOOD SUCKS
Grohol says moodiness—especially if you’re usually an upbeat, positive dude—is a sign that stress is weighing you down. If you’re finding it hard to get pumped about stuff that used to excite you, or friends and family have lately called you out for having a pissy attitude or a short fuse, stress may be to blame.
YOU’RE SLEEPING LIKE SHIT
Sleep quality is a great barometer of your underlying stress levels, Grohol says. Especially if you used to sleep like a baby, tossing and turning once you hit the sack is a red flag that you’re dealing with heightened stress.
YOU’RE EATING CRAP ALL THE TIME
Research shows stress promotes your body’s production of a hormone called “ghrelin.” Ghrelin stokes your appetite and increases “hedonistic” eating, or reaching for sugary treats, junk food, and other stuff you know you should lay off, shows a study from the University of California, San Francisco. If your eating habits have taken a nosedive, stress could be the cause.
YOU FEEL WORN OUT, ABOVE AND BELOW THE BELT
Stress hormones can block the beneficial effects of testosterone, shows research from the University of Texas. As a result, excess stress can torpedo your energy levels and leave you feeling drained, Grohol says. That stress-induced drop in T can also tank your libido and hurt your erection function, more research shows.
YOU GET SICK ON VACATION
No, we’re not talking about throwing up from too many poolside piña coladas. We mean coming down with a cold or flu. Research on so-called “leisure sickness” shows people who are overly stressed often get sick when they take a break from their jobs or whatever else is causing them grief. Why? An abrupt drop in stress hormones can leave your immune system extra vulnerable to viruses, finds one study from The Netherlands. Weekend headaches—especially migraines—are also common among people who deal with a lot of stress during the work week, research shows.
YOU’RE DRINKING MORE THAN YOU USED TO
For a lot of dudes, increased alcohol or drug use is one of the surest signs of underlying stress, Grohol says. Again, this is particularly true if you noticed a sudden uptick in your substance use over the past six months or year, he says.
YOUR JAW HURTS
Grinding teeth, particularly during sleep, is common among people dealing with high amounts of stress and anxiety, shows research from the National Institutes of Health. If you’ve noticed your jaw is sore first thing in the morning, or your dentist has spotted signs you’re grinding your teeth, stress could be to blame.
If you’ve noticed any of these stress symptoms, talking with a therapist can help, Grohol says. Regular exercise and spending time with friends are also proven stress beaters. A massage and mindfulness meditation can also cut down your stress levels, research shows.