How Does Stress Affect the Body?

By Rebalance Health

June 15, 2022

Stress affects all of us, and over the last few years, it’s become even more widespread and intense. While certain types of stress are beneficial, many of us are more familiar with the kind of stress that makes life more challenging — and can negatively affect our health. So, how does stress affect the body, what are the long-term effects of stress, and what can we do to combat its impacts? 

What is Stress?

Stress is a natural reaction to life experiences and is often a mental and physical response.Triggers of stress can range from everyday things like work responsibilities or conversations, to major life events like a death, losing your job, or receiving a new health diagnosis.

Effects of stress can vary. When stressed, cortisol – a hormone released by your adrenal glands – enters your blood and moves throughout your body. Your cortisol levels rise and fall naturally throughout the day, however, it’s not uncommon for them to become irregular as one of the long-term effects of stress or sleep disruption. 

Side effects of stress and how stress affects the body depend on the type. Short-term bouts are sometimes referred to as “good” stress because they’re intended to help you cope. In these scenarios, your body tackles stress by releasing hormones like cortisol, increasing heart rate, making you breathe more quickly, and preparing your muscles in case you need to avoid danger. 

On the other hand, chronic stress that’s not alleviated can have negative health effects. If you’re wondering how stress affects the body, you may be surprised at just how deep it can go.

Side Effects of Stress

Having long-term stress isn’t just uncomfortable for your body and mind — the effects of stress can take a toll on health. How does stress affect the body? Some of the signs that you may be facing chronic stress include difficulty falling or staying asleep, frequent headaches, anxiety, depression, and irritability. 

Internally, unmanaged stress can wreak havoc that’s difficult to pinpoint. Some of the effects of stress on the body show up in very specific ways, impacting various parts of your body differently.

Digestive System

If you’ve ever been nervous to go on stage or speak publicly, you’ve probably experienced some degree of the digestive effects of stress on the body. When under stress, your liver makes more glucose than your body may be able to manage. 

This can cause diarrhea, bloating, or constipation. It can also lead to heartburn due to increased stomach acid production. Stress itself doesn’t cause ulcers, however, it can increase your risk of developing them. 

Central Nervous System

When wondering how does stress affect the body, the impacts on the brain may come to mind. Your fight-or-flight response is one of the most well-known effects of stress on the body. 

When this happens, your brain releases two different stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which increase your heart rate, increase blood sugar, and send blood throughout your body to organs and muscles. 

Cardiovascular System

One of the effects of stress is that your heart rate increases. This is because stress hormones cause blood vessels to constrict, raising blood pressure and moving more oxygen to muscles. When your body is under these conditions for a long time, it increases your risk for a heart attack or a stroke. 

Respiratory System

Being under stress also causes your breathing to increase in order to distribute more oxygen throughout your body. Anxiety tends to constrict flow even though breathing is increased. This can make it more difficult to breathe if you have a pre-existing respiratory condition, like asthma or severe allergies. 

Reproductive System

One of the most commonly experienced effects of stress is a decrease in sexual desire. Men can have interrupted sperm production or experience erectile dysfunction. For women, prolonged stress can trigger changes in the menstrual cycle that make it heavier, lighter, or irregular. 

Immune System

When answering the question of how does stress affect the body, it’s not just your main organs that suffer. While stress can boost the immune response acutely, helping to heal wounds and recover from infections, it can make you more susceptible to becoming sick in the long run. Being under stress can lengthen the time it takes for your body to recover from illness or injury.

Musculoskeletal System

You’ve probably noticed your muscles tense up when you’re stressed. This is your body’s way of protecting you from pain and injury, as well as preparing you to fight or flee from danger. 

Chronic stress makes your muscles remain in a constant state of tension. This can cause aches and pains, and may eventually lead to other stress-related injuries or disorders. Not to mention the dump of toxins into your bloodstream that result from muscles being in a constricted state over long periods of time.

Recovering from the Effects of Stress on the Body

Now that you know how stress affects the body, here are a few tips you can try if you’re noticing it in your life and want to minimize side effects of stress.

Find Community

friends gathering around a table drinking coffee

Being part of a community is important for your mental and physical health. This could mean reaching out to a couple of close friends to talk, or participating in a group setting, like a fitness event, a faith-based group, or a neighborhood activity.

Move your body

Movement is a form of therapy for the body and the brain. Think about the difference in how you feel after a day of watching television versus a day where you’re able to enjoy a jog outside or a trip to the park. 

Physical activity is known to help improve mood, by increasing endorphins that make you feel good. It’s also been proven to reduce perceived levels of stress and better overall well-being. Choose an activity you enjoy, whether that’s a walk with your dog, a hike with a friend, or trying a local spinning class. 

Prioritize sleep 

Sleep allows your body a minimally-interrupted opportunity to recover and rejuvenate. Under chronic stress, getting enough restful sleep is important in order to help bring calm to your mind, relax your body, and allow your brain to sort things out.

Not getting enough sleep can contribute to other health issues as well, like disrupted metabolism and dysregulation of insulin and glucose.

Aim for 7-9 hours a night, and try to get in the habit of going to sleep and waking up around the same time every day. If you have trouble falling asleep, consider how you can make your bedroom more welcoming for rest, like adding blackout curtains or more comfortable bedding and avoiding blue light from electronics like laptops and phones close to bedtime.

Do what brings you joy 

During times of stress, it can be easy to forget what we truly enjoy. But it’s important not to push things you enjoy to the side as these can actually help with resetting emotions. 

Think about the hobbies that bring you joy and try to make them a priority. This might be reading a good book, painting, playing an instrument, cooking, or listening to music.

man serving a tennis ball

Keeping these sources of positive energy as a regular part of your daily routine can help promote relaxation and help take the power away from your stressors. 

Cultivate a positive outlook

Stress can put us in a negative mindset that’s difficult to break free from. Something as simple as positioning a sticky note with a positive affirmation on your bathroom mirror can help you set up your day from a happier vantage point. 

It can feel cheesy at first, but talking positively to yourself and reframing negative inner thoughts can also help encourage a clear mind and optimistic outlook. Positive thinking and self-affirmation have been shown to activate the brain’s reward center.

Rebalance your system

In addition to the healthy lifestyle practices above, adding one of our Rebalance Systems to your routine can help bring everything together to manage the effects of stress and how stress affects the body. 

Designed to help normalize cortisol levels, this three-part system works to encourage restorative sleep, energize you in the morning, and balance your circadian rhythm.

Perfect for men and women seeking more peace in their daily life, each Rebalance System is full of calming ingredients like Bacopa, Melatonin, L-Theanine, L-Tryptophan, and Oat Straw that help counteract how stress affects the body.


How does stress affect the body? Many ways. Some hidden. Some obvious.  Everyone experiences stress and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed.. But incorporating these practices into your routine can help minimize the long-term effects of stress.

If you’re struggling or if stress is interfering with your ability to participate in or enjoy the majority of your everyday life, it’s also important to seek help from a mental health professional.