9 Ways Stress Can Make You Sick: Understanding the Connection

Dr. Serenity
April 12, 2023

9 Ways Stress Affects Your Health

Feeling constantly stressed out? You’re not alone. Learn about short-term versus long-term stressors and how they can affect your body, including contributing to disease. Find out about the physical changes that occur in your body due to chronic stress, such as inflammation and elevated cortisol levels. Discover how stress can be both helpful and harmful and what you can do to manage it.

Stress is a prevalent issue in today’s fast-paced world, and it’s important to understand how it can affect our health. Chronic stress can make many diseases and health problems worse, and in some cases, may even be a contributing factor to their development. Here are nine illnesses that stress may help cause or make worse:

  1. Depression and Other Mental Health Conditions

While the exact cause of clinical mood disorders like depression and anxiety is still unknown, major stressful or traumatic events in the past can be a contributing factor. According to data published in JAMA, 20 to 25 percent of individuals who experience major stressful events will go on to develop depression.

  1. Insomnia

Stress and sleep are closely linked, and not getting enough sleep can actually make stress worse. An informal APA survey found that 43 percent of adults surveyed reported that stress had caused them to lie awake at night at least once in the past month.

  1. Cardiovascular Disease

Chronic stress can contribute to heart disease in several ways. According to a JAMA review, stress hormones like adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol can cause heart rate quickening and blood vessel constriction. If the body remains in this state for a long time, it can damage the heart and cardiovascular system. Stress can also lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms like overeating and drinking, which can contribute to heart disease.

  1. Common Cold

Stress can weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infectious diseases such as the common cold. A study conducted on 420 volunteers exposed to the common cold virus revealed that participants who suffered from greater overall stress were more likely to become infected with the virus after exposure.

  1. HIV and AIDS

While stress does not cause HIV, it can worsen the severity of the disease. A study of 96 HIV-positive patients found that stress increased the risk of progressing from HIV to AIDS by 50 percent and more than doubled the risk of developing an AIDS-related clinical condition.

  1. Gastrointestinal Disease

Stress can affect gastrointestinal motility, increasing the chances of developing gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel conditions, gastroesophageal reflux, constipation, diarrhea, and discomfort.

  1. Chronic Pain

Stress can trigger or worsen chronic pain conditions such as migraine and lower back pain. Chronic low back pain is often related to muscle tension and tightness, which can contribute to the sensation of pain.

  1. Cancer

While the cause of cancer is complex and not entirely understood, some studies suggest that stress can play a role in the onset of the disease. Chronic stress can activate the body’s inflammatory response, which may contribute to the development of cancer.

  1. Autoimmune Conditions

Inflammatory conditions such as autoimmune disorders can be exacerbated by stress. Patients with a stress disorder are more likely to develop an autoimmune disorder.

According to Dossett, managing stress can be achieved through numerous effective methods, such as yoga and mindfulness. Although these interventions do not eliminate or alter the underlying causes of stress (such as financial difficulties, family conflicts, or a hectic schedule), they can help retrain the body’s central nervous system response and decrease the response if it is triggered.

While some conditions, like cardiovascular disease, can develop years before they are diagnosed, additional research into interventions is crucial, as Uchino notes.

In general, if you are struggling with chronic stress, seeking guidance from your physician or a trained mental health provider can provide the support you need.

Author Dr. Serenity

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