Worrying yourself sick: stress and your health

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Throughout April it is stress awareness month, so we spoke to the team at The Online Clinic to ask about the kinds of physical symptoms that can be a sign you’re too stressed.

1. Migraines

Migraines can be caused by external and physical factors, such as dehydration, diet and even hormonal imbalances – but they can also be a sign of issues such as stress.

People who suffer from migraines have a central nervous system which can be triggered by change. They might have inherited genes which can cause the brain to respond abnormally to signals – and stress can be one of these signals.

To find out if your migraines are being triggered by stress or not, it’s worth checking in on yourself and making sure you’re not pushing yourself too hard. Keeping a “migraine diary” is a good way to keep track of your migraine attacks and your moods, and can make it easier to draw links between the two.

Insomnia

Lying awake at night tossing and turning is a classic symptom that you might be too stressed. Worrying all the time and feeling stressed can easily stop you from sleeping, which can then make you feel even more stressed as your body is not getting the rest it needs to relax.

In order to step out of this cycle, it’s important to allow yourself a couple of hours before bed to fully relax and tell your body that it’s time to sleep. Make your bedroom peaceful, quiet and dark, and ensure it is the right temperature. Offload your concerns by writing a “to-do” list before you go to bed, so you will have a relaxed and calm mind when it’s time to fall asleep.

For more information, see our guide to getting a good night’s sleep.

Eczema

80% of the time eczema is caused by an irritant coming into contact with the skin. However, people who are prone to eczema can experience flare-ups with stress and psychological factors, too.

Eczema is an umbrella term for red, inflamed, dry and cracked skin. There are a few treatments available to treat eczema, available from GPs and pharmacies. Cream containing an emollient can be used in most cases and combined with an antibiotic if the area is infected. If you think your eczema flare-ups might be triggered by stress, monitoring your mood can help to understand its causes.

Erectile dysfunction

There are three things which are needed for erections to work properly – there must be adequate blood circulation, the nerves leading to the penis must be intact and working properly, and there must be sexual stimulation from the brain. If any of these three elements aren’t working – it means men will struggle to achieve an erection.

Erectile dysfunction can sometimes become an issue with a new partner, as people might suffer from performance anxiety. It’s estimated that around 20% of all cases of erectile dysfunction can be caused by psychological factors – such as stress from work, finance, marital problems – or could even be a sign of depression. People who have suffered from an episode of impotence in the past may now have performance anxiety which can itself lead to a problem achieving an erection.

Erectile dysfunction can be treated with medication, or to treat a psychological issue like stress, sexual counselling can help.

Alopecia

Male pattern baldness is a common condition caused by a mixture of genetic and hormonal factors. Around 25% of men begin to lose their hair by age 30. This is mostly a natural and unavoidable part of getting older.

However – there is some hair-loss which can be triggered by other factors. If you notice bald patches on your head, it could be a sign that your stress levels are becoming too much for your body to handle. The immune system can become strained and start to attack the hair follicles, which is all started by stress. By making a note of when your hair falls out and your mood at the time, you may begin to see whether stress is a factor.

Your mental wellbeing can affect all aspects of your health, so it’s always important to take the time to relax in order to help stay physical healthy. It’s always a good idea to keep a diary of your health issues along with your mood and diet, as this can help pinpoint what is triggering your health conditions. This can also be useful to show a doctor if you choose to seek medical advice.

Advice given by Dr Elizabeth Kershaw-Yates, GP and one of the medical team at The Online Clinic.