Americans are more stressed than ever, according to an American Psychological Association survey, and nearly one-third say stress impacts their physical or mental health.

Stress presents itself differently in everyone – whether as an external emotional hurricane that consumes our entire being, or a storm that percolates just below the surface, we’ve all experienced internal and external stress reactions.

Emotional aftershocks for stress reactions can occur immediately following a traumatic event, but often times may take a few hours or days to appear. In some cases, it may take weeks or months before the stress reactions materialize. Regardless how much time has passed, stress commonly presents itself in the form of physical sickness. Here are some warning signs that stress might be making you sick….

Inexplicable hives
Though commonly associated with allergies, hive outbreaks can also be brought on by stress. When your body experiences excessive stress for any period of time, your immune system gets funky and your body releases the chemical histamine to fight off your ailment.

If the stress doesn’t go away, you may experience an allergic reaction that shows itself in the form of hives. When your immune system is weakened by stress, your skin can also become sensitive to things it never was before such as temperature, soap, lotions, or laundry detergent.

Weight fluctuation
Aside from the physical act of under-eating and/or overeating, stress triggers an internal reaction in your body that may cause weight fluctuation. “Stress triggers the release of the hormone cortisol, which impairs your body’s ability to process blood sugar and changes the way you metabolize fat, protein, and carbs, which can lead to weight gain or loss,” says Shanna Levine, MD, a primary care physician and clinical instructor of medicine at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Chronic headaches
Stress releases chemicals that have the ability to change the nerves and blood vessels in the brain, thus resulting in headaches. Additionally, if you’re prone to migraines, stress is known to trigger them or make them worse.

Upset tummy
Stress can cause the body to produce excess digestive acid, thus leading to heartburn. “It can also slow the emptying of food from the stomach, which causes gas and bloating, and may even increase the number of times your colon contracts, leading to cramping and diarrhea,” says Deborah Rhodes, MD, a Mayo Clinic internal medicine physician.

Cold that won’t quit
If you’re battling what seems to be a never ending cold, perhaps stress is the culprit. “When people are stressed, they get sick. It could be cold or cold sores, which pop up because the immune system can’t suppress the virus,” says Dr. Levine.

When you’re stressed, your body pumps out more hormones, like cortisol, which causes skin glands to produce more oil. This excess oil can get trapped inside hair follicles, along with dirt and dead skin cells, producing pimples.

You feel “foggy”
Stress can make you mentally sick, too. “Too much of the stress hormone cortisol can make it harder to focus or concentrate, causing memory problems as well as anxiety or depression,” says Dr. Levine.

Hair loss
Losing a few strands of hair is normal (old hair follicles are replaced by new ones over time), but stress can disrupt that cycle. Stress can cause many conditions that lead to hair loss. Here are three of them:

  • Alopecia Areata – Sudden loss of large clumps of hair in areas around your scalp.
  • Telogen Effluvium – This is a condition where more hairs than normal prepare to fall out.
  • Trichotillomania – This is a habitual condition caused by stress and anxiety where the person pulls out hairs without realizing it.

The above outlines the negative effects that stress can have on your body, mind, and overall health. If you’re experiencing any of the above, pay close attention to your stress and anxiety levels. You may find that taking steps to treat the underlying stress may be a cure for all of your ailments.

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