For many of us, 2017 has felt like one prolonged bout of chronic stress, and the recent events in Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida, and more have done little to assuage that fact. Unsurprisingly, stress that lasts for weeks, months, or even years can wreak havoc on your health, leading to "dysregulation" of your immune system and other biological functions, explains Firdaus Dhabhar, Ph.D., to Prevention.
In other words, chronic stress can make you more "susceptible to illness" overall, continues Dhabhar, who is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. This is especially relevant given the current time of the year when the cold and flu tend to run rampant. So how do you know if stress is making you sick or if it's just the common cold? Keep an eye out for the science-backed telltale signs below.
Your teeth are fractured or damaged
A 2011 study published in Biomedical Research found that psychological stress can cause you to clench your jaw or grind your teeth. The participants who were teeth grinders had elevated levels of stress hormones in their saliva.
You're having digestive issues
Believe it or not, stress hormones can "trigger changes in the way your digestive system transports, breaks down, and absorbs nutrients," according to another 2011 study in the Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology. If you're experiencing unexplained stomach pain, cramps, or diarrhea, stress could be to blame.
You're gaining weight
Stress-eating is definitely a real thing; a 2014 study in Frontiers in Psychology found that prolonged stress can cause your body to produce more hunger-inducing hormones, called glucocorticoids. "Stress also seems to promote cravings for high-calorie foods—fries and desserts, not salads," add the researchers.
Your blood pressure is too high
Because stress directly triggers your body's fight-or-flight instincts, chronic stress cranks up your sympathetic nervous system and as a result, your blood pressure. "None of that is an issue in the short term," they clarify. "But over time, chronically elevated BP can overwork your heart, leading to damaged arteries and blockages."
Head over to Prevention for more, and read up on a guru's simple ritual for tempering stress when you're feeling overwhelmed.