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How Stress Affects Your Health

Stress can have far-ranging negative effects on your health. Learn what happens when you live with long-term stress.

Stress is a response to either a physical or an emotional threat. It is your body’s natural defense mechanism. Stress may be short-lived or last a long time. People respond in different ways to the same stressor. And what is stressful for one person may not be stressful to someone else.

The stress response can be good, helping you get to safety or face a threat. But being under stress for too long can have a negative effect on your mental, emotional and physical health. Over time, stress may lead to:

  • Problems with thinking and focusing. You may have trouble concentrating or remembering things. You may make a series of poor judgments or be overly negative.
  • Physical problems. Continued stress may contribute or exacerbate health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. It can also cause issues with weight.
  • Emotional problems. Are you snapping at your coworkers? Feeling overwhelmed? Moody or unhappy? These may all be a sign of stress. Continued stress may lead to moderate to severe depression and anxiety disorder.
  • Behavior problems. Do you find yourself wanting to be alone more than you used to? Are you sleeping more or staying up to all hours, either of which isn’t like you? Are you overeating or forgetting to eat? All may be stress related.

Regain your balance

If stress has taken over your life, these ideas may help you take back control:

  • Take a breath. Count to 10. Rethink the issue.
  • Check the source of your stress.
  • Keep a list of the things that cause you stress, then develop a plan for dealing with them.
  • Exercise regularly. Check with your doctor to see what activity level is right for you.
  • Do things you enjoy.
  • Learn relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation.
  • Treat yourself well — eat healthy meals and get enough sleep.
  • Get quality sleep. As you aim for the recommended seven or eight hours of sleep, limit caffeine if you’re sensitive to its effects, remove electronics from your sleeping area, and go to bed at the same time each night.
  • Seek support from supportive relatives and friends.

Get help

Still stressed out? Talk to your doctor or a counselor who can help you find other ways to reduce or manage the stress in your life.

If stress is overwhelming you and you are having thoughts of suicide or harming others, seek help right away. If you feel there is an immediate danger, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

By Susan G. Warner, Contributing Writer


National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Stress. Accessed: May 11, 2017.
National Institute for Mental Health. Fact sheet on stress. Accessed: May 11, 2017.
American Psychological Association. How stress affects your health. Accessed: May 11, 2017.

Updated May 10, 2017