Stress is a normal reaction that happens to everyone, and our bodies typically handle stress in small doses pretty well. Stress isn’t always a bad thing for mental health. It can help your body adjust to new situations, keeping you alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger. However, when stressors persist without relief, that is when stress can become a real problem. When stress is chronic, with minimal to no breaks for relaxation or downtime, it can affect not only your mental health but your physical health as well.

Stress can present itself in physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and fatigue. Many people don’t connect emotional dysregulation and physical symptoms until they become severe enough to warrant medical attention. This is why it’s important to be aware of the physical symptoms of stress so that you can be proactive in managing it before it turns into a long-term physical issue.

What happens to mental health and the body during stress?

When a person is under constant stress, it causes wear and tear on the body to the point where behavioral, emotional, and physical symptoms develop.

Some physical symptoms of stress include:

  • Chest pain or rapid heart rate

  • Sleeping issues

  • Headaches

  • Stomach or digestive issues

  • Elevated blood pressure

  • Stomach or digestive problems

  • Weakened immune system

Chronic stress causes the muscles in the body to tense up. When muscles are taut for long periods, this can cause issues like migraines and lower back pain. Rapid breathing or shortness of breath, both common symptoms of stress, usually are not a huge issue for people with no history of respiratory problems. However, it can become a severe problem for people with asthma and obstructive pulmonary disease conditions. Long-term stress can also affect the heart and blood vessels because of ongoing rapid heart rate, elevated stresshormones, and blood pressure. This increases the risk for heart attacks, strokes, and hypertension.

What are some strategies for stress relief?

There’s no way to avoid stress altogether, but you can keep it from becoming overwhelming by practicing some of these strategies:

Get moving. When you feel stress coming on, get up and take a short walk when possible.

Keep a gratitude journal. Practicing gratitude has been proven to reduce stress.

Relaxation activities such as meditation, yoga, muscle relaxation exercises are all effective ways of managing stress. Many areas have classes available, and there are also a lot of apps available for smartphones and mobile devices.

Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. A decent night’s sleep helps your body handle stress much better.

Learn to say “no” and don’t commit to more than you’re comfortable with.

Find a trusted support network of family and friends that you can vent to or confide in to avoid feeling alone when overwhelmed and stressed. Having emotional support goes a long way in preventing stress from building up.

When to seek help

If you’re experiencing extreme stress and are seeing or feeling the physical effects, don’t wait to get help. If you’ve taken steps to control your stress, but your symptoms persist, contact your medical provider so they can rule out other potential causes. You may also consider seeing a therapist who can help you identify the sources of your stress and help you work through them. Serene Health offers individual therapy and other mental health services, and we have appointments available seven days a week through our Telehealth platform. Call us at 844-737-3638 or visit us at to schedule an appointment.