Last updated on Jun 23rd, 2021 at 12:41 pm

Stress is a normal part of life, but many people experience high levels of stress because of circumstances in their lives

While the emotional and mental impact of stress on a person is undeniable, can stress make you physically sick? 

Stress is a physical illness

People consider the mental effects of stress, however, stress is actually a physical reaction to situations you perceive to be harmful overwhelming. 

The duration of stress can vary, but in times of stress, your heart rate increases, your muscles tense, your blood pressure rises, and your body prepares to act. It’s fight or flight time.

Under normal circumstances, this state is passing, but when you go through a stressful period (not a stressful event), the physical effects could become more intense and cause illness. 

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Headache, neck and back pain

Muscle tension is one of the most common signs of stress. When your feel threatened, your body tense. This happens suddenly when you feel physical danger, but it can also happen gradually and take hold of you for longer if you feel threatened by a long term situation. This could be caused by concern, fear or emotional disturbance. 

Muscle tension can lead to body aches and headaches. Tension headaches related to stress are caused by tension in the facial and neck muscles. 

Temporary high blood pressure

Although high blood pressure and hypertension can be long term condition, this is not necessarily caused by stress. Stress does increase your blood pressure temporarily.

When you are stressed your blood vessels constrict, and your heart needs to pump faster to get the blood through. That is why you may feel like your heart is racing or pounding when you are stressed. This could bring on other conditions related to high blood pressure temporarily. 

Tummy stress

Many people have tummy problems when they are stressed. This could be cramping, discomfort, diarrhoea, constipation or a combination of tummy problems. 

According to The Univesity of Chicago, this is not just a mental thing. 

When a person is stressed, the adrenal glands make and release the hormone cortisol into the bloodstream. This causes the fight-or-flight response, and can also trigger abdominal discomfort, stomach cramps, constipation, diarrhoea, nausea and other symptoms.

The Univesity of Chicago


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While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.