When stress continues over a long period of time, the body is impacted in a number of ways, which can have an impact on additional illnesses or health conditions. “These mechanisms lead to burnout and wear-and-tear on the body,” says Kelsey M. Latimer, Ph.D., a psychologist based in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and the founder of KLM Psychological Services, a concierge therapy provider. “Our mind becomes exhausted and our body starts to attack us.”
Conditions impacted by stress include:
Many studies show the impact stress can have on the heart. Research from 2019 notes that psychosocial stress, which is caused by social threats, such as exclusion or judgments by others, is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). It also notes the impact stress has on the cardiovascular system depends on the level and duration of stress, meaning that severe chronic stress may lead to higher risks.
A small 2020 study also suggests that stress isn’t always considered when evaluating individuals at risk of cardiovascular disease, but that it should be taken more seriously as a potential inciting factor. The study notes people with stressful work situations, those with a history of abuse and past traumatic events have a higher occurrence of heart disease.
High Blood Pressure
A 2018 review examining the impact of stress on hypertension (high blood pressure) notes that chronic stress can lead to an increase in blood pressure. High blood pressure can put individuals at risk of serious conditions such as stroke and heart disease.
One 2019 study of 1,829 Black adults suggests that high levels of stress experienced over time led to an increased risk of developing high blood pressure. The study also noted that Black individuals may experience higher levels of stress caused by discrimination and socioeconomic factors, placing them at a higher risk of hypertension.
Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety is the body’s response to stress. However, when anxiety continues long after the stressful situation has resolved and interferes with daily life, individuals may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. “If the stress reactions are not slowed, then the body eventually becomes exhausted,” says Dr. Latimer. “This can lead to long-term changes such as anxiety/panic disorder or depression and other conditions that negatively impact our health.”
While a number of different factors can cause depression, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that stressful situations—such as unexpected diagnoses, financial difficulties, abuse, grief and major life changes—can all contribute to the development of the condition.
Thirty-three percent of adults who responded to the American Psychological Society’s Stress in America survey suggested that they’d experienced sadness or depression as a result of stress, while 34% had felt anxious or nervous because of stress.
In 2022, a survey conducted by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center reported that almost one in five Americans had difficulty getting to sleep at night. The American Psychological Society’s Stress in America survey also reported that 32% of adults who took part in the survey had experienced a change in their sleeping habits due to stress.
Meanwhile, a 2018 study examining the link between stress-induced worry and insomnia states that stressful and traumatic life events often had a notable impact on how well a person sleeps. The study also points to the dangers of not getting enough sleep, reporting a link between those with insomnia and metabolic disorders and cardiovascular disease.
Research suggests a link between stress and fertility issues, although it’s not always clear which comes first. One study found a link between higher perceived self-reported stress and a slight reduction in pregnancy. The study also suggests that stress could lead to menstrual cycle changes and a lack of desire for sexual intercourse, both of which may impact a person’s chances of getting pregnant.
A 2018 study examining the link between a person’s quality of life and their fertility found that women experiencing higher levels of distress also experienced a small reduction in their ability to conceive. However, the study pointed out that more research is needed to establish whether fertility issues causes stress, vice versa or both.
A 2015 study in Temperature: Medical Physiology and Beyond explores the connection between stress and a rise in body temperature. The study suggests that stress may cause a psychogenic fever, defined as a psychosomatic condition in which a person’s body temperature rises in times of chronic stress or when exposed to emotional events.
Still, research on the connection between stress and fever is limited, and much of the research is limited to case studies.