The pressure to always put your best foot forward can bring on a great deal of stress. And because stress is so common, particularly during a pandemic, you might think that unless you're suffering from extreme symptoms (i.e. lying on the floor from exhaustion), you're probably fine. But stress has an insidious way of creeping up on you, and it's not just an emotional issue — symptoms can impact the body and mind in unexpected (and often bizarre) ways.
You're likely familiar with the common signs: extreme fatigue, anxiety, irritability and a struggle to sleep, but are you aware of the under-the-radar symptoms? Keep an eye out for these five red flags and try to get some much-needed R&R (with a visit to your GP).
1. Weird Dreams
Sleep is a time for rest and recuperation, but if you're mentally strung out, this can be reflected in your subconscious as those high-stress levels follow you to the land of nod. Do you ever dream of missing a plane, bus, or worse, a final exam, being late for work or losing your car? These are classic stress-related dreams. Or how about jolting awake in the middle of the night convinced you've missed an important early-morning meeting? Your mind has been so tightly wound all day that it continues to work overtime during your sleep to compensate for your anxieties and perceived shortcomings.
2. Weekend Headaches
The weekend is usually when we can start to relax. However, do you ever experience headaches on Saturday or Sunday? The type of headache that involves both sides of the head and generally feels like tightness in the forehead or back of the neck? These aren't normal if you're trying to unwind and sudden increases or decreases in stress can cause this type of tension known as stress headaches.
3. Eyelid Twitching
These annoying muscle spasms typically occur around one eye and last for a few minutes. Stress is one of their most common causes (and in some cases this can be a standalone symptom), though doctors aren't quite sure why. If the excessive twitching becomes unbearable, close your eyes, try to relax and breathe deeply. Inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, then exhale for eight seconds. Repeat this four times while using a fingertip to put mild pressure on the lid that's twitching.
4. Memory Loss
Can't seem to remember the details you just discussed during a stressful meeting? Chronic stress can expose the hippocampus, the area of the brain that controls short-term memory, to excessive levels of the stress hormone cortisol and this can inhibit your brain's ability to remember things. Dealing with the root cause of your stress is the best way to get your memory back, but until that happens, write down important things and find other ways to supercharge your memory.
5. Ear Ringing
A study from Sweden's Karolinska Institute found the stress of having to change jobs increased ringing and other hearing problems among women by 43 per cent. Scans have shown the limbic region of your brain shifts into overdrive when you experience ear ringing, and that part of the brain is also known to handle aspects of stress regulation. The study authors say this limbic activity could explain why tension and hearing issues are connected, though they can't yet point to a particular interlinking cause.
Main photograph: via Unsplash
Related: How to manage stress: take these 4 steps
Related: 'Stressful and overwhelming' — should we opt out of homework for our children?
Related: I'm stressed, so my skin is turning against me