If your life is causing you stress, it is time you started to think about the impact of that stress.

Whether you’re young, old, rich, or poor – you’re bound to go through stress. Stress is undeniably one of the inevitable phenomena in life, especially in today’s world.

Sadly, our bodies can only handle so much. When our body becomes overwhelmed with stress, we can fall sick.

You read that right! Your stress could be making you sick!

When most people think of stress, they think of the emotions that come with it: anxiety, irritability, and sadness. However, stress doesn’t just affect the mind; it can also have physical effects on the body. In fact, stress may play a role in 75% to 90% of human illnesses.


The relationship between stress and health diseases is complex yet fascinating. Finding the connection between stress and illnesses may have been a fool’s errand in the past, but new evidence shows chronic stress can actually trigger health conditions.

Dr. Sheldon Cohen, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, uncovers the connection between stress and our bodies and how it could cause disease. Cohen says, “stress could be affecting how we deal with inflammation.”

Every human is unique, and we don’t respond to stress the same way. While some people may show psychological symptoms like depression and anxiety, others may show physical symptoms like cold, headaches, and body pain.

What’s worse? Stress doesn’t just cause illnesses; it could also worsen any existing health problems we already have.

How is it possible to worry yourself sick?

Despite its bad rep, stress is not all bad. When you get stressed, your body immediately responds with the “fight or flight” procedure. Your body pumps stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) into your bloodstream, which focuses the mind and body for immediate action – a response vital for survival.

However, when your body is constantly under stress, your body becomes flooded with these hormones, which can pose a threat to your health.

In our modern day, not every stressor requires a physical response.

Sadly, our body doesn’t understand that and interprets non-life-threatening issues as stress and initiates the stress response, which can trigger health problems.

For example, our stress hormone (cortisol) is responsible for treating inflammation, regulating blood pressure, regulating metabolism, and controlling your sleep cycle.

When there is an overload of cortisol in your body, you can experience high blood pressure, weight gain, muscle weakness, and severe fatigue.

The illnesses that have been linked to stress include:

  1. Depression and Other Mental Health Conditions

Depression is a common and serious medical illness that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and dampens your mood.

Although the exact cause of depression is unknown, high-stress events like the death of a loved one or a loss of a job can trigger depression in some people. In fact, approximately 20% to 25% of people who experience major stressful events develop depression.

Neurological insights show constant stress makes vital brain regions unresponsive, a common characteristic in depressive patients. The reason is – our stress hormones stimulate our brain! However, too much stress overstimulates the brain regions, which exhausts and damages your neurons, and causes them to lose plasticity – another characteristic in depressive patients.

What’s worse? People that developed depression from stress showed intense symptoms, and their recovery was slower.

  1. Diabetes

Like managing diabetes isn’t stress enough, stress itself could worsen the condition.

Chronic stress can affect type 2 diabetes in more than one way. When you’re under stress, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol into your system. Your body redirects blood to your muscles, allowing you to escape any impending danger quickly. Unfortunately, your body may be unable to deal with all the glucose entering your muscles if you have diabetes. If you can’t use the glucose, it accumulates in your blood stream. This causes your blood glucose levels to rise, which can cause diabetes.

Subsequently, when we feel stressed, many of us take comfort in eating junk foods. Research has shown that our stress eating increases our risk for diabetes.

  1. Insomnia

Sleep is essential for our health and well-being, but it can be elusive when we’re under stress. While stress doesn’t cause insomnia, it can make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. An APA study on stress found the effect of stress on sleep. According to the survey, about 43% of 2000 adults could not sleep because they were stressed. 21% of them felt more stressed when they couldn’t sleep well.

Older people already find it hard to sleep, and stress worsens these sleep problems. You become more stressed when you can’t sleep properly, and you don’t sleep properly when you’re stressed. Sadly, the vicious cycle continues until you treat your stress source.

  1. Heart Problems

The body’s natural reaction to stress is to avoid danger — our fight or flight response. So when you are under stress, your heart rate speeds up, your muscles tighten, and your senses become alert.

These changes are a result of the release of adrenaline and cortisol hormones. While these changes give us the strength to flee from any danger at hand, prolonged exposure to stress can hurt your heart.

For example, cortisol is partly responsible for controlling inflammation in the body. However, abnormally high levels of cortisol in the body can cause inflammation of the circulatory system and initiate plaque buildup, which can cause heart attacks.

  1. Common Cold

There is a fascinating relationship between stress and the immune system. When the body is stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight infections drastically reduces. This could make you more susceptible to the common cold.

Dr. Stephen Cohen and his team carried out a study to find the role of stress on infectious diseases like colds. The experiment was carried out on a group of 420 participants who were the common cold virus and then quarantined them to see if they got sick. The results revealed that the participants who suffered from more significant chronic stress were more likely to become infected with a virus after exposure.

  1. Back, neck, and shoulder pain

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that back, neck, and shoulder pains are the most common medical complaints among adults. After all, most of us spend our days sitting and staring at our screens.

Sadly, stress doesn’t only cause back pain; it could worsen existing back and neck pain.

The reason is – when you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol that prompts your body to tighten muscles in your shoulders, neck, and down your spine.

However, prolonged tension in these muscle areas can cause muscle spasms and back pain.

  1. Weight gain

Obesity is a common, serious disease that affected about 42% of adults in the United States between 2017 – 2020.

While you may want to chuck it up to lack of exercise and poor dieting, stress is one of the culprits that can cause weight gain.

Have you noticed that you’d rather go for a sweet snack than a proper meal when you’re stressed? Our stress hormone – cortisol, is to blame.

Our stress hormones allow us to crave sugary foods, which puts us a risk of weight gain.

Take Away

One of the most threatening causes of illness is our invisible, unpredictable stress. The evidence is overwhelming – When exposed to chronic stress, we can manifest physical symptoms and fall sick. Psychological stress for long periods make us vulnerable to several diseases.

The good news is – you don’t have to worry yourself sick. You need to take care of your mind just as much as you take care of your body. Tackling the source of your stress can drastically reduce your chances of falling sick.

Check out ways to alleviate stress at work here – both from the employers and employee perspective

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