5 Ways That Stress Is Destroying Your Health

Stress is unfortunately an inevitable part of life on this planet. Recent times even more so. Whilst occasional stress can actually keep us alert and sharp and is actually quite good for us (exercise for example - thats a stress), chronic ongoing and unmanaged stress can be absolutely detrimental to our health and can be a leading cause of premature death.

So, how exactly DOES stress damage our health? Below are tghe key ways in which stress will destroy your health if it is not effectively managed.


Cardiovascular Diseases

Chronic stress is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), including hypertension, heart attacks, and stroke. The underlying mechanisms involve the activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, leading to increased heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. These are the types of responses that, when they happen in an emergency - ie we need to run away from a bear, then those changes allow us to get a quick burst of energy and our muscles to get more oxygen so we can power out of the threatening situation. When it is happening 5 times a day every day though, things can go south. Over time, these physiological changes can result in arterial damage, atherosclerosis, and increased cardiac workload, culminating in cardiovascular disease.

A meta-analysis by Kivimäki et al. (2012) found a direct correlation between work-related stress and the incidence of coronary heart disease, underscoring the importance of managing stress to mitigate cardiovascular risks.


Immune System Suppression

Stress has been shown to suppress the immune system, rendering the body more susceptible to infections and diseases. The release of cortisol during stress response can inhibit the production and function of white blood cells, such as lymphocytes, thereby compromising the body's immune response.

Segerstrom and Miller’s (2004) review of 300 empirical studies concluded that chronic stressors were associated with suppressed cellular immune function, highlighting the potential for increased vulnerability to viral infections and delayed wound healing.


Mental Health Disorders

This one is probably really obvious. The impact of stress on mental health is profound, with a strong association between chronic stress and the development of disorders such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The chronic exposure to stress hormones like cortisol can alter brain function and structure, particularly in areas involved in mood regulation, such as the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex.

A study by Hammen (2005) elucidated the causal role of stress in the onset of major depressive episodes, indicating that stress not only precipitates mental health disorders but also exacerbates their severity.


Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome

This one may not be so obvious but in my experience, many patients that I work with that are struggling to effectively lose weight have unmanaged stress right at the centre of their issues. In fact it is a key area that we work with in my Metabolic Fix programme. You can find out about that by clicking HERE.

Stress can influence eating behaviours, leading to increased consumption of high-fat, high-sugar foods, a phenomenon known as "stress eating." This maladaptive coping mechanism can result in weight gain and obesity, further increasing the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels.

The relationship between stress, cortisol, and obesity was explored in a review by Epel et al. (2001), which detailed how cortisol promotes fat accumulation, particularly in the visceral region, thereby contributing to metabolic disturbances.


Gastrointestinal Disorders

Chronic stress is also a known trigger for various gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and peptic ulcers. Stress can alter gut motility, increase intestinal permeability (leaky gut), and disrupt the balance of gut microbiota, leading to inflammation and GI symptoms. Have you ever had the experience where you were incredibly nervous and then all of a sudden you needed to run to the loo? The link is powerful.

A comprehensive review by Konturek et al. (2011) highlighted the role of stress in exacerbating GI diseases, emphasizing the interplay between the brain and the gut, often referred to as the brain-gut axis.



The detrimental effects of chronic stress on health are far-reaching, impacting cardiovascular, immune, mental, metabolic, and gastrointestinal systems. The evidence underscores the critical need for effective stress management strategies to mitigate these risks. Addressing stress through lifestyle modifications, psychological interventions, and, where necessary, pharmacological treatments, is imperative to improve overall health and quality of life. As research continues to unravel the complex interactions between stress and health, it becomes increasingly clear that managing stress is not just about enhancing well-being but is vital for preventing a host of chronic diseases.



Epel, E.S., McEwen, B., Seeman, T., et al. (2001). Stress and body shape: stress-induced cortisol secretion is consistently greater among women with central fat. Psychosomatic Medicine, 63(5), 837-840.

Hammen, C. (2005). Stress and depression. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1, 293-319.

Konturek, P.C., Brzozowski, T., & Konturek, S.J. (2011). Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 62(6), 591-599.

Kivimäki, M., Nyberg, S.T., Batty, G.D., et al. (2012). Job strain as a risk factor for coronary heart disease: a collaborative meta-analysis of individual participant data. The Lancet, 380(9852), 1491-1497.

Segerstrom, S.C., & Miller, G.E. (2004). Psychological stress and the human immune system: A meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. Psychological Bulletin, 130(4), 601-630.

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