Your body is a system, a well-crafted machine, and when one part of it gets overworked, it can show up in surprising places. That’s why physical therapists might treat pain in the neck with targeted exercises in the lower back. However, aspects of the body (like the physical) don’t stay lumped together. Mental, emotional, and spiritual health are other parts of wellness that we need to take care of consistently.
That’s easier said than done. Western societies live in a culture where telecommuting and virtual offices have become the norm. There are many upsides to this, like being able to work from home and around family schedules. However, it also means we’re connected 24/7, and some bosses/companies expect employees to basically work around the clock. Even if that isn’t “expected,” employees can feel compelled to reply to emails in the middle of the night and on off days.
Work is only part of our stressful lives. Many people also feel compelled to keep up with the idyllic Instagram model body and seemingly laidback lifestyle—or get an ulcer trying. Hours spent in the gym, at salons, and going to all those restaurant openings and pop-up shops for the perfect Snap can all do a number on the holistic body. (For a lot of people, a trip to the nail salon isn’t necessarily a relaxing indulgence, but rather something they feel required to do in order to look polished).
If you think you’re overworking your body, you probably are. But how can you tell? Your body lets you know, but the red flags it throw up can be a little different for everybody. Here are five major ways your body might be telling you to slow down and take a break:
- You don’t wake up naturally (or, if you do, you still feel tired). According to the Sleep Foundation, Americans are chronically under-rested. Western culture revered getting little to no sleep. Going a long stretch without sleep comes with bragging rights, and for some reason, we equate a lack of sleep to excelling and being dedicated to our work or studies. We also have poor sleep hygiene or best sleep practices that ensure a restful night’s sleep.
You might be sleep deprived if you need to rely on alarm clock to wake up. Ideally, your body gets enough rest that you wake up naturally after whatever amount of sleep your body needs. You might be sleep deprived if you feel groggy throughout the day, although do keep in mind that naps are healthy and common in many cultures. Eight hours of sleep is just an average. Some people need as little as four and some up to twelve.
- You’re putting on weight but you haven’t changed your diet or exercise routine. Sudden weight gain can be due to a variety of factors including age, hormones—and stress. One way our body can react to stress is to horde fat. However, many times people under high stress reach for comfort foods that are high calories and/or eat on the run. Those easy to grab snacks are usually filled with sugars and calories that aren’t filling. You might be eating an excess of calories without knowing it.
- You’re losing weight but haven’t changed your diet or exercise routine. Some people lose weight when they’re under stress. It’s uncommon for a natural hormone change or simply aging to cause fat loss. Our metabolisms slow as we age, which is what causes a slight but natural weight gain. If you’re losing weight and don’t know why, stress might be a factor. However, it could also be a medical issue and you should get it checked out right away.
- You’re breaking out. For some reason, a lot of people are under the impression that once they make it out of high school, their complexion will magically clear up for good. That’s not the case. Pimples, or acne, can be caused by a variety of factors including hormone shifts (which happen throughout life, like with menopause) and stress. Although foods like pizza and chocolate don’t cause acne per se, your skin is still an organ—the largest in your body. It will respond to healthy, natural foods. Stress can cause breakouts, and reaching for easy snacks that aren’t particularly nutritious can exacerbate it. Adult acne can cause low self-esteem and even be painful or cause long-term scarring. See your dermatologist, but keep in mind that’s addressing just the symptom, not the cause.
- You’re drinking more than normal or indulging in another unhealthy vice. Whether it’s alcohol, opioid painkillers, excessive workouts or another vice, ask yourself why you’re reaching for this particular comfort. The answer is almost always stress, and the vice is only providing a short-term comfort. Particularly in cases like alcohol and opioid abuse, these addictive drugs come with serious side effects. Vices are dangerous to the body, sometimes in both the short- and long-term. There are healthy ways to help manage stress, and one of the best is seeing a mental health professional or life coach to help you find avenues for management.
Overworking your body can come with a host of consequences. It’s time to get back on a healthier track now and treat your body with kindness and a healthy attitude.