Did your holiday baking binge cause your hair to start falling out? It could've if you had a particularly hectic month preparing for winter festivities. Baking, shopping, wrapping, balancing bank accounts — these things can really stress us out. Take a few moments to check in with your body to make sure you're not sacrificing your health and mental well-being at the expense of a picture-perfect holiday. Physical symptoms of stress, such as dry heaving, can manifest themselves in weird ways when the affairs of life get too overwhelming. And sometimes, you may not even realize that stress is the cause.
1. Vomiting. In his recent book, "On the Brink" (Business Plus, 2010), former Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson admits to getting so stressed out during the height of the 2008 financial meltdown that he would start to dry heave, sometimes in private and other times in front of Congressmen and staffers. He's not alone. Dry-heaving (or retching, in medical terminology) is one way that stress can rear its ugly head, more often as a sign of anxiety. Stress and anxiety can also trigger vomiting and a condition called "cyclic vomiting syndrome," a condition in which people experience nausea and vomiting over an extended period of time — often, starting at the same time every day. Dealing with anxiety-induced dry heaves or vomiting starts with getting plenty of rest and drinking water (vomiting can cause a loss of electrolytes), and then finding ways to calm down or eliminate the source of your stress, such as practicing walking meditation.
2. Hair loss. There are multiple reasons that your hair could be falling out, from genetics to medications. But stress is one of them. Among the conditions associated with stress-induced hair loss is alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder in which white blood cells attack hair follicles, causing hair to fall out. Another condition triggered by stress that has even more extreme results is called telogen effluvium, which is basically characterized by a sudden loss (up to 70 percent) of hair. This condition can be difficult to link to stress because the hair loss can occur months after a stressful event, for instance, a death in the family or childbirth, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. However, the organization notes, it's usually a problem that corrects itself once the stressful event is over.
3. Nosebleeds. There is some debate as to whether nosebleeds are triggered by stress, but studies have shown that, in some cases, patients who experience nosebleeds get them after finding themselves in stressful situations. A 2001 article in the British Medical Journal suggests that this could have something to do with the spikes in blood pressure that are very common when you're stressed out. Keep your blood pressure in check by drinking hibiscus tea. Simply escaping the daily hubbub for a while to brew it could be enough to lower your stress levels a bit.
4. Memory loss. If you notice you can't seem to remember the details you just discussed during a stressful meeting, it could be an effect of your shrunken hippocampus, says Jeffrey Rossman, PhD, psychologist and director of life management at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass., and Rodale.com advisor. Chronic stress can expose the hippocampus, the area of the brain that controls your short-term memory, to excessive levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And that 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 bits of information and find other ways to supercharge your memory.
5. Weakened immunity. Perhaps the most noticeable effect that stress has on your body is a weakened immune system, and that happens for a couple of reasons. First, stress triggers the release of catecholemines, hormones that help regulate your immune system; prolonged release of these hormones can interfere with their ability to do that. Second, says Rossman, stress shrinks your thymus gland, the gland that produces your infection-fighting white blood cells, and it damages telomeres, which are genes that help those immune cells reproduce. A good way to deal with stress and boost your immune system is to exercise; if you're so stressed out that you can't fit in those 30 minutes a day, try these other tricks for boosting immunity.
6. Excessive sweating. Everyone knows that you sweat more when you're stressed out, but some people suffer from hyperhidrosis, excessive sweating, particularly of the palms and feet, says Rossman. Yoga and meditation can help reduce stress-related sweating, and if you think you might be suffering from hyperhidrosis, find a physician who specializes in the disorder. You may be helping more than just yourself. A study published last fall in the journal PLoS One found that stress sweat can give off certain signals that people around you can detect, possibly causing them to be stressed out as well, as a result.
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