ATLANTA - The holidays can be really stressful. But the warning signs of stress may not always be obvious. Studies show as many as 90 percent of doctor's visits are because of a health issue tied to stress, like stomach problems, headaches or fatigue.
So, how can you tell when the stress is taking a toll on your body? We asked an Emory internist, Dr. Sharon Bergquist, for some hidden warning signs of stress.
Dr. Bergquist says sometimes the warning signs are obvious.
"You can get heart palpitations, a rise in blood pressure, headaches, butterflies in your stomach." she says.
But you may not even realize you're feeling overwhelmed.
"A lot of people think that they're handling stress just find, and really they're internalizing it," Dr. Bergquist says. "And sometimes that comes out in physical ways."
Like, we can't sleep and can't seem to remember, names, numbers, anything.
"You're having trouble concentrating," Bergquist says. "It's not that your memory is actually being lost, it's a concentration issue."
Another hidden sign we're stressed: we're taking more pain medication than usual. Berqquist says anxiety and depression and pain often go hand in hand because they share the same brain pathways.
"So it's really difficult for someone to have chronic pain and not get depressed," she says, "Or have depression and not get chronic pain."
So, more pain usually translates into more painkillers.
"And I think it's really hard to understand, when you feel pain, the answer is not really more pain meds," Dr. Bergquist says. "It’s getting to the root cause."
We all have stress in our lives, that's normal.
"But when you reach that dividing line, where you're no longer in control, where the stress - or the depression - is in control, where you can't find your way out, where you're just spiraling, that's when you need medical attention." Bergquist says.
If you're feeling overwhelmed, talk to your health provider. Bergquist says lifestyle changes -- like eliminating unnecessary stressors -- can help. So can talk therapy. And, she says, some people really benefit from medication for anxiety and depression. Exercise is also a great stress-reliever.
Start by trying to identify what's causing you to feel stressed, and what you can do to cope better.