Our bodies are pretty amazing. From hiking mountains, to hauling armfuls of groceries, we rely on these nature-made machines for just about everything, oftentimes without even noticing. But especially in today’s fast-paced world, our bodies can’t always keep up with our super busy schedules, demanding workloads, and the endless stimulation of on-demand technology. The result: we end up tired, cranky, and ultimately, sick.
Luckily, our bodies are so smart, they usually start letting us know that it’s time to slow it down far sooner than we might even notice. The trick is learning how to read those physical cues. That’s why I tapped the experts to find out those tell-tale signs from our bodies we should never ignore.
Changes in weight
Maybe you’re the type of person who forgets to eat when they’re super busy. Or, perhaps you’re more like me and a stressful work deadline or unexpected parking ticket is enough to send you to the office vending machine for some therapeutic Cheetos. It may seem harmless enough, but if your coping habits are tipping the scale too far in either direction, it could be a sign of something more serious.
“Unintentional excessive weight loss or weight gain are often signs of mental health issues,” NYC therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, told me via email. “Food is sometimes used as an unhealthy coping skill in order to deal with issues of anxiety or depression.”
So the next time you find yourself elbow deep in the candy jar, take a deep breath and tune in to what your body might really be trying to tell you.
Skimping on sleep one night to catch up on Game of Thrones is one thing, but Hershenson says that frequent nights spent tossing and turning in bed into the wee hours of the morning could also be a sign of anxiety or depression.
Besides mental illness, insomnia can also be associated with a variety of other medical conditions, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Some of these include asthma, arthritis, and certain endocrine conditions such as hyperthyroidism.
The bottom line: if you catch yourself missing out on regular sleep, it may be time to pay a visit to your doctor.
We all get frustrated, but being extra moody or emotional could be a sign of an underlying mental health issue, according to Hershenson. “Fluctuating between happy and sad or lashing out at others for no reason may be indicators of depression,” she explained to me. “So is not finding joy in things that used to make you happy.”
If you find that you’ve given up on your hobbies or no longer want to socialize, it may be time to talk to a professional.
Pushing through a single workday when you’re feeling tired is tough enough. Dealing with constant fatigue, especially when its seemingly for no apparent reason, can be downright frustrating. According to Dr. Carolyn Dean, a women’s health expert and author of The Magnesium Miracle, lack of energy can also be a sign of hormonal imbalances, which, if ignored, can lead to other health issues including heart disease and diabetes.
“You lack energy because your metabolism is slow,” she told me. “The thyroid controls metabolism and if thyroid hormones are deficient, then the body slows down. Thus, the symptoms reflect this.”
Okay, so chances are most of us aren’t spending too much time thinking about good ol’ number two. We all go — some of us once a day, some of us once a week — and it’s all good. No need to pay attention, right? Well, not so much. According to Dr. Dean, our bathroom habits can actually be a big indicator of our overall health. “Slow metabolism leads to slow bowel movement,” she told me.
If you’re experiencing constipation along with other symptoms like fatigue, muscle cramps or headaches, it could be a sign that your body is lacking some much needed magnesium.
Your hair can also be a big indicator that your metabolism isn’t working to its full capacity, Dr. Dean explained, with hair loss and dry hair being the biggest red flags to look for. “Your hair doesn’t grow as fast when your circulation is slowed down and doesn’t nourish your hair,” she said.
Hair loss can also be a sign of stress or that you’re using too-harsh shampoos or styling products.
Spending time outside can be a relaxing way to unwind from life’s daily stresses. Unfortunately, the sun’s unforgiving rays put us all at risk of developing skin cancer if we’re not careful. That’s why Dr. Alan J. Parks, dermatologist and founder of DermWarehouse.com, says it’s important to know our bodies and be aware of new moles, as well as existing ones that might have changed in color.
“Most worrisome would be a mole getting darker especially black in color,” he told me via email. “This could be the sign of a malignant melanoma, which is the most deadly form of skin cancer. However, if caught early, the prognosis is excellent….Moles getting lighter in color could also be a worrisome change as this also could represent a melanoma.”
Alternatively, rashes caused by the sun can also be a sign of something more serious, says Dr. Parks. “Rashes that appear after sun exposure; especially on the face, upper chest, and arms could be a result of medication interacting with the sun, most commonly water pills taken for high blood pressure or NSAID’s taken for arthritis or joint pain,” he told me. “This type of rash can also be a sign of diseases such as lupus. “
Like hair, nails are also a window into our body’s state of health. “Nails can reflect signs of skin diseases or internal diseases such as thyroid gland problems,” said Dr. Parks. “Any changes in nails, especially if multiple nails are involved, should be checked by a dermatologist. Nail abnormalities can also be a sign of fungus or other type of infections.”
With so much going on in our day-to-day lives, it’s easy to forget to check in with our bodies, making time to notice new lumps and bumps that weren’t there before. “Conduct a monthly skin exam on yourself to check for any changing moles or new skin lesions,” said Dr. Parks. “If you notice anything abnormal, make an appointment to see your dermatologist.”
It’s also important to nourish our bodies by slowing things down every now and then. “Doing something just for yourself every day is crucial to alleviating mental stress,” said Hershenson. “Whether it’s having some tea/coffee while reading the newspaper or stretching for 10 minutes.”