5 Ways Stress Affects Your Health and Wellbeing and How You Can Manage It


Stress is one of the most common conditions that affect people of all ages. No one escapes its effects and for some, it’s a constant companion. Did you know that one out of five working Americans has one or more symptoms of burnout such as restlessness, irritability, or difficulty sleeping?

Chronic stress doesn’t just disrupt your mind; it also negatively affects health. Stress can cause problems with digestion and breathing, as well as aggravates preexisting health conditions. There is also a negative correlation between chronic stress and poor health outcomes such as impaired immunity, increased blood pressure, and chronic fatigue, to name a few.

Let’s look at some ways stress can affect your health and some practical strategies for reducing its grip on your health and wellbeing.

Stress Can Trigger Inflammation

Severe, chronic stress over-activates your immune system and contributes to inflammation. Research shows that people who are stressed have higher levels of cortisol, a major stress hormone. Cortisol isn’t all bad. It helps you mobilize energy when you need to run away from a predator. But too much cortisol for too long is harmful and some people who are chronically stressed have a level that’s too high.

When cortisol surges or is chronically elevated, it boosts inflammation throughout the body and can contribute to chronic health problems, such as bone loss, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. In fact, research suggests chronic inflammation may play a role in every disease of aging, including Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.

Stress Increases Pain

Chronic stress can increase pain if you have a chronic pain condition and make it harder to sleep. It reduces sleep quality, too. Research shows that just one week of elevated stress can worsen pain and make it harder to get a restful night’s sleep. If you have a chronic pain condition, like a chronic lower back pain, stress can make the discomfort harder to control. When you’re stressed, you must deal with the physical effects of pain and the added emotional toll it takes on your health. People in chronic pain already feel anxious, depressed, and sometimes angry. Added stress worsens those symptoms.

Chronic Stress Can Trigger Feelings of Helplessness

Stress can be a powerful motivator when you face a big deadline at work, for example, and need to get something done quickly. However, chronic stress can also be triggered by consistent, unrelenting pressure, and lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Any type of stress that you’re ill-equipped to manage and has no direct solution can activate feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Many factors can trigger those feelings — family problems, financial issues, loneliness, and low self-esteem, issues that don’t always have easy solutions.

Stress Can Aggravate Other Health Conditions

Stress can aggravate several conditions. It can cause muscle tension and headaches, and it’s also a factor in heart disease. As mentioned, stress causes your body to release the hormone cortisol, which increases your blood pressure and blood sugar levels, damaging your blood vessels. If you have diabetes, your risk of developing complications such as heart disease, eye problems, and kidney disease may increase. In younger people, stress can even cause acne flare-ups. That’s why it’s so important to have ways to manage stress and what works for one person isn’t always effective for another. It’s important to find at least one stress management strategy that works for you and you can tap into when you feel worried, troubled, or anxious.

Stress Can Change Your Outlook on Living

Stress eats away at you emotionally. Over time, it can zap your confidence and change your outlook on life. That’s why it’s so important to have ways to manage stress, so it doesn’t manage and control you. Let’s look at some ways to do that.

Ways to Relieve Stress

  • Meditate for five minutes. It will help clear your mind so you can devote your full attention to the task at hand.
  • Take a break. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a few moments for yourself — even if it’s just to sit down, close your eyes and breathe deeply.
  • Get support from friends and family. Having someone to talk to about what’s causing your stress can lighten the load. Ask a friend to go for a walk with you after work or invite someone over for dinner when you have time to chat.
  • Do something physical. A good workout can help ease tension by releasing endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Exercise also distracts you from stressful thoughts and provides an outlet for excess energy.
  • Practice self-care. Adopt healthy lifestyle habits such as getting quality sleep, eating a healthy diet, and moving your body every day.
  • Practice mindfulness. Living mindfully is an underappreciated way to manage stress. Take advantage of it and you’ll be rewarded with better mental health even in the face of stress.

The Bottom Line

Stress can take a toll on your health, both in the short and long term. If you suffer from chronic stress, it’s important to make lifestyle changes that can help mitigate its effects and reduce its negative effects on your health and well-being. Stress doesn’t just affect your mind and the way you think; it also impacts your physical health and well-being.

Trying to reduce your stress level is one of the best things you can do for your health. And remember that it’s not just the stress you feel because of work or money issues, but also the stress caused by other factors in your life: not getting enough sleep, eating unhealthy foods, or not exercising regularly. So, think about lifestyle changes you can make to lighten your stress load.


  • Liu YZ, Wang YX, Jiang CL. Inflammation: The Common Pathway of Stress-Related Diseases. Front Hum Neurosci. 2017 Jun 20;11:316. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00316. PMID: 28676747; PMCID: PMC5476783.
  • “Does Stress Make Chronic Pain Worse? – United Physician Group.” 01 May. 2020, unitedphysiciangroup.com/2020/05/01/does-stress-make-chronic-pain-worse/.
  • Ahmad AH, Zakaria R. Pain in Times of Stress. Malays J Med Sci. 2015 Dec;22(Spec Issue):52-61. PMID: 27006638; PMCID: PMC4795524.

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