We all know that being stressed out feels unpleasant, but what many don’t know is just how unhealthy it can be. Consistent stress can affect the human body in surprising ways. Here are just a few of the ways that the body reacts to stress and how it can have harmful effects in the long term.

Emotional Eating

Stress eating is a medically proven occurrence. During times of stress, the brain releases cortisol, a hormone that has been linked to cravings for sugar and fatty foods. Constant stress means constant fat cravings, which can lead to constant poor dietary choices. Stress eaters should make sure to stock up on healthy snacks and avoid keeping junk food readily available.

Fat Storage

Not only does stress encourage unhealthy eating, it also affects the body’s fat storage. Cortisol can enlarge fat cells and increase the amount of fat stored in the body. More belly fat has been linked to high cortisol levels, making it even more important to eat right and exercise during times of stress.

Heart Problems

While scientific research has not confirmed yet exactly why or how stress impacts the heart, the consensus is that it does. People with stressful, high-pressure jobs are 23 percent more likely to have a heart attack than people with lower job stress.


The body responds to stress by releasing cortisol and adrenaline. These chemicals aid the “fight or flight” response, which often shows up in the form of an unpleasant tension headache. Stress can also tense up muscles in the rest of the body, making a potential migraine even worse.

A lifestyle change can yield positive, long-term results for anyone suffering from stress headaches. Relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation and massage therapy have all been shown to help reduce muscle tension caused by stress.

Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders can be a major health concern in and of themselves, so stress-based sleeping problems open the door to a whole new group of potential physical problems. Short-term stress can cause hyperarousal where people have trouble resting because they just don’t feel sleepy. While sleep patterns may return to normal once the stressful situation is resolved, chronic long-term stress can lead to constant sleep deprivation.

All of these side effects of stress contribute to a weakened immune system. Lululemon founder Chip Wilson says in his manifesto: “Stress is responsible for 99% of all illness.” And it’s true. When the body experiences stress, it loses its capacity to fight off disease.

Learning how stress impacts the body provides great motivation for getting stress under control. Relaxation techniques, fulfilling hobbies, and a positive support system can all help to reduce stress. Yogi Chip Wilson believes that meditation and exercise can all contribute to improved focus and decreased stress.

Though these methods for combating stress won’t work for everyone, it’s a good starting point. Take the necessary steps to lower your stress levels before it starts affecting your health and overall well being.