Stress and Your Health

The physical symptoms caused by stress.

It’s no secret there’s a mind-body connection. In the scientific community, there’s a big word for this: psychoneuroimmunology. Your psychological well-being plays an important role in your overall state of health. Think of the jitters and upset stomach many people experience before speaking or performing in front of a crowd. Or the headache you get at the end of a stressful day. But there are a host of other ways chronic stress affects your health.

Sometimes you may think your health is completely unrelated to your stress level. Then the stressor is removed and your symptoms begin to go away.

Stress isn’t just in your head. In some ways, it affects all parts of your body. So before you run to the doctor and undergo multiple tests it may be smart to consider if anxiety or stress could be at the root of your problems. Here are a few ways your psychological state can negatively affect your health.

If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress, and tension. And if you didn’t ask me I’d still have to say it. – George Burns


When you’re stressed, your brain signals the sympathetic nervous system to tell the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones (adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol) to prepare your body for the fight-or-flight response. Chronic stress and frequent exposure to stress hormones can drain the body, leaving you feeling fatigued and spent.

Musculoskeletal System

When you’re stressed, it’s like you’re in a constant state of guarding your body from harm. Because of this, your muscles tense up when stress hits you. Muscle tension contributes to headaches, muscle aches, jaw clenching or pain, neck pain, back pain, tremors, grinding of teeth, and other musculoskeletal conditions. So relax, and your musculoskeletal system will, too.

Respiratory System

It’s harder to get deep, full breathes when you’re stressed, making it difficult for your body to get the amount of oxygen it needs for optimal functioning. You may find yourself frequently sighing or consciously trying to take a deep breath. This lack of oxygen can make you feel dizzy, lightheaded, or fatigued, or it may cause tingling or numbness in your hands or feet. Short, rapid breaths can also lead to hyperventilation and then to panic attacks.

People with asthma or lung disease may have a harder time breathing deeply when stressed. Acute stress can even trigger an asthma attack.

Cardiovascular System

Your heart and blood vessels are also negatively affected by stress. When stress hormones kick in they cause your heart to beat faster and stronger and your blood vessels to dilate, thereby increasing blood pressure. Many people experience palpitations or chest pain during intense stress.

Frequent or chronic exposure to stress hormones can lead to long-term circulatory system problems and an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, or high blood pressure.

Gastrointestinal System

Emotional eaters are known to overeat when they’re stressed. Overeating can contribute to acid reflux or heartburn. Stress and anxiety can also cause butterflies, stomachaches, nausea, vomiting, or even ulcers.

The increase of stress hormones affects your bowels as well. Sometimes they slow things down and you get constipated, other times they speed things up and you have diarrhea.

Endocrine System

Extra stress hormones circulating in the body signal the liver to produce extra blood sugar that’s designed to assist in the situation. Unfortunately, for those with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, this is a bad combination. Unmanaged stress can contribute to high blood sugar and can be dangerous for diabetics.

Reproductive System

Stress hormones affect both male and female reproductive systems. Chronic stress can decrease a man’s testosterone production and the number and quality of sperm, cause erectile dysfunction and impotence, and make a man more susceptible to infections.

For women, unmanaged stress can cause irregular menstruation, painful periods, difficult pre-menstrual syndrome, and a lack of libido.

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