5 Stress-Related Illnesses (& How to Treat Them)

Updated in August 2023

Stress-related illnesses are usually triggered by increased levels of adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are needed to prepare the body for a fight-or-flight response. 

Although these hormones are beneficial and produced by the body to confront day-to-day problems, persistently high levels of adrenaline and cortisol can lead to chronic stress and other illnesses. For example, high stress can cause symptoms like muscle tension, intestinal changes, and reduced immunity.

Mild to moderate stress can be managed with interventions like participating in pleasurable activities, taking a walk and performing physical activity. There are also herbs for anxiety and stress that you can use to make soothing teas. Stress that interferes with your daily routine or causes other physical symptoms should be assessed by your doctor. 

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Some stress-related illnesses include:

1. Insomnia

Stress can cause or worsen insomnia, as stressful situations with your family or at work can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Fluctuating stress hormones can also interfere with sleep and reduce the quality of your rest. 

How to treat: Some strategies for falling asleep include drinking milk before bed, avoiding caffeine for at least 3 hours before going to sleep, sleeping in a dark, well-ventilated space, and not thinking about stressful problems from your day. Check out our other tips for falling asleep fast so that you can get a good night's sleep. 

2. Eating disorders 

Eating disorders, like anorexia, are other common illness caused by excess stress. When the body is overloaded with stress or feels out of control, some people may try to cope by taking up dysfunctional eating patterns. 

How to treat: You should see a registered dietitian and a psychologist if you suspect you have an eating disorder. Treatment can vary from person to person depending on your weight, age, self-esteem and willpower. 

3. Depression

Persistently elevated cortisol levels and low serotonin and dopamine levels from stress can lead to depression. People who are unable to cope with stressful situations may have abnormal hormone levels that can eventually develop into a depression. Learn more about the symptoms of depression that can emerge as a result of stress.

How to treat: You should employ habits that help to reduce stress, like avoiding negative self-talk, getting at least 15 minutes of sun per day, sleeping between 6 to 8 hours per night, exercising regularly, avoiding isolation and walking outside. If necessary, a psychologist can help to address depression in a more direct, therapeutic manner. 

Some foods, like rice and bananas, can also help with depression management. 

4. Cardiovascular disease

Stress can compromise the functioning and structure of arteries and veins, and can reduce blood flow, cause irregular heart rates and harden the blood vessels. These factors increase the risk for clots, poor circulation, stroke, high blood pressure and even heart attack. 

Check-out the symptoms of heart disease you should not ignore, and be sure to complete our online symptoms quiz to determine your risk for cardiovascular disease. 

How to treat: You should maintain a healthy diet made-up of plenty of legumes, greens and fruit. In addition, you should exercise regularly and participate in relaxing activities to manage your stress and reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease.

5. Irritable bowel syndrome and constipation

Stress can cause abnormal intestinal contractions, which can make the gut more prone to symptoms like gas, diarrhea and bloating. Constant stress can cause these symptoms on a more permanent basis, leading to irritable bowel syndrome. 

In some cases, stress can even lead to opposite effect and cause more gut dilation. This is because stress can also trigger changes to the production of natural gut bacteria, leading to constipation. 

How to treat: You should maintain a healthy, balanced diet that is rich in fiber, and aim to drink about 2 L of water per day. IBS may require management with analgesic medications, as well as a diet that is low in fat, caffeine, sugar and alcohol (as these foods tend to worsen symptoms). Learn more about the IBS diet, and what to eat and avoid.