Despite what stock images want you to think, stress doesn’t always manifest in that classic ‘hands grasping clumps of hair; panicked facial expression’ way (see above).
In fact, stress symptoms don’t always present in an emotional or psychological way — often, they’ll appear in parts of your physical body you’d never expect. “As far as I’m concerned, you can’t separate the mind and the body; they’re so intricately related they directly affect each other,” says Leanne Hall, a Sydney-based clinical psychologist and mind and body expert.
The two main culprits behind these physical symptoms are the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which tend to increase when the body is under stress. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; they can help the body deal with stressful events in the short-term. The problem arises when this increase is chronic and ongoing.
“When we’re getting around our daily activities with elevated levels of cortisol and adrenaline, that has a major physical impact as well as psychological. Our body goes into complete disarray,” Hall explains. Here are some common physical signs and symptoms of stress you might not be aware of:
1. Muscle pain
Ever been under the pump and desperately wished someone would give you a shoulder massage? That's no coincidence. According to Matthew Squires, principal physiotherapist at Physio Gym Physiotherapy, the influence of stressors often manifests as pain, tightness or rigidity - i.e. hypertonicity - in the muscular body. Yep, stress can literally be a pain in the neck.
"There's a chemical element and a biomechanical element to stress. The biomechanical element tends to be more the fatiguing of muscles and the fact that muscles are trying to hold up compromised body mechanics; the chemical element tends to lower your awareness of pain and your threshold to managing it," Squires explains. "So if you're emotionally stressed, your threshold for pain decreases, and the physical and mechanical element is more noticeable." (Post continues after gallery.)
Being able to recognise which areas of your body hold stress and emotion is crucial in managing these symptoms. Squires says stretching, or getting up and moving away from your desk at regular intervals, will help alleviate the pain. Developing an exercise-based solution with the guidance of a physiotherapist will also help you manage this issue in the long term.