This article has been medically reviewed by Howard Orel, MD. Board-certified and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Orel runs an active general pediatric practice, Advocare Marlton Pediatrics. He also serves as CEO of Advocare — one of the largest independent medical groups in the country.
No doubt about it — it’s been a stressful year navigating a new normal amid a global pandemic, work from home anxiety, and remote learning. While we all encounter stressful situations from time to time, whether it’s making deadlines at work, being stuck in traffic, or rushing around to pick up the kids, different types of stress affect the body in unique ways. So can stress make you sick? The reality is the worst of the issues caused by stress are not easily solved by just learning how to relax, some breathing exercises, or self-care activities. It’s more serious than that.
Some stress is helpful and can push us towards making decisions and taking action. This is known as positive stress (“eustress”) and it can keep you alert and help you avoid conflicting situations. Stress becomes negative (“distress”) when a person faces several challenges without relief or relaxation between challenges. When this happens consistently, you might be experiencing chronic stress which can suppress your immune system and cause you to get sick more easily. It has been estimated that up to 75 to 90 percent of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints. If you’re wondering if your stress is making you sick, ahead are some often silent signs and symptoms that you need to be aware of.
Can stress make you sick?
The short answer: yes. Stress can cause many physical symptoms and illnesses. Stress is a biological response to intense situations. When we experience stress, it causes our body to release hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. When stress is chronic, cortisol levels stay elevated and if this is experienced for the long-term, it can contribute to a host of problems. If you’re suffering from chronic stress, you run the risk of developing a slew of ailments such as:
- high blood pressure
- heart problems
- skin conditions
- irritable bowel syndrome
Chronic stress can even lead to heart disease and cancer when left untreated and unmanaged.
Chronic Stress Symptoms
Many factors can trigger a stress response, like losing a job or studying for a final exam. However, these effects of stress typically don’t last long. Chronic stress is when you’re living in a constant heightened state of alertness, putting pressure on the body for an extended period. Some potential causes of chronic stress include:
- high-pressure jobs
- financial difficulties
- family issues and illness
- challenging relationships
If you’re under chronic stress, below are some examples of some symptoms you might experience:
- not being able to focus
- trouble finishing projects
- substance abuse problems
- poor food choices
- trouble sleeping and/or insomnia
- disorganized thoughts
- feeling helpless
- a perceived loss of control
- low self-esteem
- loss of sexual desire
- frequent infections or illnesses.
- chronic pain
- decreased energy
- rapid heartbeat
Physical Effects of Stress
Your body’s nervous system controls your heart rate, breathing, and more. And thanks to a built-in stress response, a “fight-or-flight response” exists to help your body face stressful situations. When you’re in a chronic state of stress, your body is undergoing some wear and tear. Ahead are some examples:
- aches and pains
- muscle tension and/or jaw clenching
- chest pain or a feeling like your heart is racing
- exhaustion or trouble sleeping
- dizziness and headaches
- high blood pressure
- stomach or digestive problems.
- trouble having sex
Emotional Stress Symptoms
Stress is also a form of emotional tension. While for some people stress might show up in more physical forms while for others, your stress can result in emotional and mental strain. Here are some examples of emotional stress.
- compulsive behavior
- not being able to concentrate or focus
- mood swings
How to Manage Stress
Keeping your stress in check and well-managed is the key to emotional and physical well-being. Find the ones that best work for you and your lifestyle.
- Physical activities such as cycling, walking, and jogging can help relieve physical tension and stress.
- Yoga and tai chi can help relax your mind and body.
- Meditation, mindfulness techniques, as well as deep breathing, can help decrease stress.
- Paying attention to the factors of your life that cause you stress and eliminating or delegating them can decrease your stress levels.
- Connecting with friends and loved ones can help lower stress.
Over time, with consistency, your stress levels will decrease and your symptoms can improve. If you’re still experiencing stress and feeling sick, consult with a mental health professional and your doctor for assistance.
What herbal tea is good for stress and anxiety?
A hot cup of tea is a soothing way to manage uneasy feelings. Some herbs have relaxing effects, but all teas deliver a warm feeling inside your stomach. Here are a few teas to try.
- Peppermint. Not only does it smell amazing, but it also soothes your mind, upset stomachs, and migraines.
- Chamomile. This tea will make you want to sleep. It calms you down and is a mild tranquilizer that reduces anxiety.
- Lavender. Lavender is an uplifting plant that can help with insomnia and send stress suppressing signals to your brain.
- Kava. This shrub is popular in Pacific cultures but is a tropical plant that can be made into tea. It can help you go to sleep and decrease anxiety. Some people have even compared it to Xanax.
- Valerian. This tea helps you sleep and relaxes the body. It’s a great root to turn into tea if you need help managing stress and boosting your mood.