Can Stress Make You Sick? Here Are 5 Ways That Stress Affects The Body

September 18, 2021

One of the questions I get almost daily from my patients is this: Can stress make you sick? The answer is absolutely!

When you're under stress, you're more likely indulge in eating junk food, less likely to exercise, and more likely to struggle with issues such as frequent illnesses, high blood pressure, and even obesity.

So, let’s learn all about how stress can impact every major area of your body and why it may likely be the root cause of the major issues health issues we're facing today.

Can Stress Make You Sick?

In order to understand why my answer is yes to the question, “Can stress make you sick?”, it’s important to know that stress impacts every area of your body.

How? Well, your adrenal glands directly respond to your body’s encounter with stress. And because your adrenal glands are your body’s control center, every time you’re under stress, it impacts your entire body.

When you think about it in terms of that, it makes sense, doesn’t it?

So, if your adrenal glands are responsible for addressing the stress you’re under, how can stress cause illness? How, exactly, can stress make you sick?

The truth of the matter is that when you’re only dealing with acute stress, or short-term bouts of stress that are addressed and resolved, the impact is minimum.

But when you’re under chronic stress, your adrenal glands become overworked. And this ultimately results in something known as adrenal fatigue.

When you’re adrenal glands are fatigued, they can’t respond to your body’s demands, and that is where the trouble really sets in.

So, when asking can stress make you sick, consider whether or not your stress is chronic and if you could have adrenal fatigue. If so, the answer is yes. Now, let’s take a look at some of the major ways chronic stress impacts your body.

5 Effects Of Stress On Your Body

Here are just a few of the major ways chronic stress impacts your body and, ultimately, your health.

1. Hair loss

If you’ve ever been under a lot of stress and noticed some hair loss, you aren’t alone.

In fact, I’ve shared before that I began losing my hair after I lost my mom. And I immediately knew it was due to stress.

When you’re stressed, your body pushes more and more of your hair follicles into a resting phase in which they cease growing and also fall out more easily. The result? Hair loss!

And research has shown this to be true. Studies have confirmed that cortisol (the stress hormone) impacts both the function and regulation of your hair follicles. [1]

How? Specifically, in vivo animal studies revealed that stress alters hair follicle cycling by prematurely ending the typical duration of active hair growth. [2]

Moreover, studies have also confirmed that hair follicles respond directly to corticotropin releasing hormone, which is a hormone released during times of stress. It’s directly responsible or stimulating the release of cortisol. [3]

2. Headaches

Do you know anyone with a history of regular headaches or even migraines? If so, ask them, “Can stress make you sick?” I’m willing to bet you their responses will be a resounding, “YES!”

Here’s why: Stress is one of the most common causes of headaches, including tension headaches and migraines.

Whenever you experience stress or anxiety, your body enters into the “fight-or-flight” mode, and this causes changes in your blood vessels. The result? You’re more prone to experiencing headaches. [4]

Additionally, feeling stressed can cause you to experience neck and shoulder tension as well as clench or grind your teeth—all of which can cause headaches.

3. Digestive issues

So, can stress make you sick in relation to digestion? You bet! In fact, that’s often one of top complaints I hear from patients who are chronically stressed.

How does it impact digestion, exactly? We just discussed how stress triggers “fight-or-flight,” and this trigger directly impacts your gastrointestinal system. Basically it changes the way you digest and eliminate food, and this change lasts until the stressor is removed and your body returns to a calm state.

But that’s not all. Stress also can indirectly impact the bacteria in your gut.

The impact of these changes? Think constipation, gas, bloating, reflux … even IBS and IBD! To read more about the impact stress has on your digestion, click here.

4. Acne

Did you know that more than 40 percent of Americans report regularly struggling with acne? It’s really not surprising since research has shown that stress and acne are closely related, and about 75 percent of Americans report experiencing at least one symptom of stress regularly.

So, how strong is the link between stress and acne? According to a 2017 study on 144 female medical students, those with higher stress levels had more severe acne than the students who were less stressed. [5].

Here’s how it happens: Stress is known to cause your liver to slow down. As a result, the toxins in your liver can actually come out through your skin, which results in acne.

And remember how stress also slows your digestion? This is also known to cause acne.

There’s also another tie between stress and acne, and it’s the act that stress your body to have less parasympathetic activity, which impacts your skin’s ability to heal and regenerate.

Think about it this way: When your skin regeneration slows, any dead skin cells that would normally be sloughed away remain on your skin, which causes clogs in your hair follicles. And if these clogs become infected with bacteria, acne can develop. [6]

5. Immune issues

Finally, let’s address what you likely really want to know when you ask the question, “Can stress make you sick?”

Here’s what you really need to know: When you’re in a state of stress, your immune system loses its ability to fight off bacteria and viruses effectively—leaving you more vulnerable to illness.

This is true for most viral infection, from colds to the flu to even COVID-19. In fact, studies have shown that stress can even impact your body’s ability to heal from those infections.

A study published in June 2020 revealed that patients with positive COVID tests who had the highest cortisol levels (indicating greater stress) had a significantly higher risk of mortality than those with lower cortisol levels.

How much higher? The patients whose cortisol concentration doubled were 42 percent more likely to die from COVID-19! [7] To read more about this study and the connection between stress and COVID, click here.

So, what do we know about why this happens? In simplistic terms, new research published in May 2021 revealed that stress can cause you to make poor lifestyle choices, which can accelerate the aging process of your T-cells (cells critical for proper immune function). [8]

Can stress make you sick - Dr. Pingel


Proven Stress Relief Techniques

So, what can you do about your stress? After all, you can’t exactly avoid all sources of stress, right?

The single best thing you can do is support your body’s ability to respond to and manage stress. That’s right–by giving your body what it needs, you can help prepare it to better manage any stress you encounter.

This starts with your diet, by providing the nutrients your adrenal glands need to function but are depleted during times of stress, supporting your health with adrenal-supporting herbs, engaging in relaxing exercises, and supporting the mind-body connection.

To give you a better idea of the four basic steps to overcoming adrenal fatigue and supporting your body’s stress management, read this article.

And if you find that you need more step-by-step guidance, including a support group, meal plans, video lessons, and more, check out my 30-day program, Total Health Turnaround.

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