Shot of a young woman suffering from stress.

Everyone feels stress from time to time. But if stress becomes a chronic or long-term problem, it can take a toll on emotional, mental, and even physical health.

Learn more about stress, as well as some of the possible contributing factors. Knowing the signs and causes of stress can help you prevent and manage it.

Stress is a hormonal response

This response starts in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. When you’re stressed, the hypothalamus sends signals throughout your nervous system and to your kidneys.

In response, your kidneys release stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.

Stress affects your body by:

Making you feel shaky, dizzy, or off-balance. Adrenaline can cause a surge of energy through your body, leaving you feeling jittery.

Raising blood pressure, which can make you feel uncomfortably hot and sweat more as a result. Chronic high blood pressure also negatively affects your heart, sometimes leading to abnormal heartbeats and chest pain.

Hindering the immune system. Over time, chronic stress can limit the effectiveness of a person’s immune system.

Causing diarrhea, stomach upset and excessive urination. Tension headaches are also a common symptom of stress.

Inhibiting quality sleep. Insomnia is a common effect of stress, which leads to daytime sleepiness

Stress takes a mental toll, too

Stress can make you irritable and angry due to the cumulative effects stress responses have on your brain.

Stress can bring down your outlook on life, make you feel guilty, and increase your risk of mental health disabilities. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety and depression are the most common.

Chronic stress can lead to substance misuse. People who experience a lot of stress are more likely to smoke cigarettes and misuse drugs and alcohol. Depending on these substances for stress relief can lead to other health problems.

The bottom line

Chronic stress can have many negative effects on your overall health, so managing and decreasing stress is worth making a priority. If stress is getting in the way of your wellbeing, talk to your doctor about ways you can help manage it.

Learn more about anxiety.