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How Long-term Stress Affects Your Body

Stress is a normal response to new experiences or demands in your life, but too much stress over a long period of time can affect your health. Find out more!

April 07, 2017 | HF Healthy Living Team

Stress occurs in your body when you come into contact with a stressor—something that your body perceives as a challenge or threat. Stress can be a reaction to a good experience, such as winning a contest or getting a new job. Positive stress is called eustress. In most cases, stress refers to distress—the body’s response to a negative experience.

Stress is a part of life, but prolonged stress can lead to long-term health problems such as anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and more.

The Stress Response

When you encounter a stressor, your brain recognizes it as a threat and signals your body to release two hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline causes your heart rate, blood pressure, and energy to spike, preparing your body to fight the threat. Cortisol triggers glucose to release into your bloodstream, sending extra energy to your brain and less energy to parts of your body that are not involved in the stress response, including your digestive and immune systems.

Stress can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). Causes of short-term stress can include loud or unpleasant noises, hunger, feelings of fear or being in danger, crowding, and exhaustion. When responding to short-term stress, the body returns to its normal state after the threat or stressor goes away.

Long-term stress is caused by lasting stressors such as money trouble, relationship problems, work pressure, and family or caregiving responsibilities. When stressors are always present, the stress response remains engaged and the body does not return to a normal, non-stressed state.

Click on the image below to find out more about how stress affects your body.

Managing Long-term Stress

At times, people cope with feelings of stress by overeating, by eating unhealthily, or by using alcohol or other drugs. This increases risks of obesity, dependence, and depression—and worsens stress. Finding healthy ways to manage stress can help prevent its long-term effects and protect your health.

You can manage stress in healthy ways by eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep. Counseling, meditation, spending time with friends, and practicing hobbies you enjoy can also help relieve stress. If you think you may be experiencing long-term stress, talk to your healthcare provider today.

Looking for stress relievers you can do wherever you are? Here are four easy ways to manage stress right now!


© 2017 HF Management Services, LLC.

Healthfirst is the brand name used for products and services provided by one or more of the Healthfirst group of affiliated companies.

This health information or program is for educational purposes only and not intended to treat, diagnose, or act as a substitute for medical advice from your provider. Consult your healthcare provider and always follow your healthcare provider’s instructions.

“Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk,” Mayo Clinic. April 21, 2016.

“Stress.” MedlinePlus. Accessed April 13, 2018.

“Stress Effects on the Body,” American Psychological Association. Accessed March 10, 2017.

“What is Stress?” The American Institute of Stress. Accessed March 10, 2017.

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