It’s 2pm on a Monday. I’ve just returned to the office after racing across town to make a meeting that I nearly missed due to an earlier appointment running late. On the drive, I called my wife to see how our daughter was fairing in light of her coming down with a stomach bug. In those 30 minutes, I missed a call from the contractor responsible for remediating the damage caused by flying squirrels in our home (yes, that’s a real thing). Back in my office, my email inbox is flooded with emails requiring my response.

Needless to say, I’m behind and I’m feeling stressed. And if my day so far is anything like yours, you’re probably stressed too.

Stress is a ubiquitous aspect of modern life, affecting people from all walks of life. Whether it’s looming deadlines at work, financial pressures or personal challenges, stress manifests itself in various forms and impacts our bodies in profound ways.

We often think that we can partition our mental state from that of our physical. Unfortunately, science suggests otherwise. How we’re feeling mentally and the level of stress we’re experiencing has a very direct and measurable impact on our physical health.

The Stress Response: A Survival Mechanism

At its core, stress is a natural response designed to help us confront threats and navigate challenges. When faced with a stressful situation, our body’s fight-or-flight response kicks into gear, releasing the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These chemicals prepare us for action by increasing heart rate, sharpening focus and enhancing physical strength temporarily. For an overview of the positive role that mild stress can play, checkout this prior write-up: Embracing Hormesis: A Pathway to a Longer and Healthier Life.

The Impact on the Body

However, when stress becomes chronic or overwhelming, it can wreak havoc on our bodies, leading to a cascade of adverse effects:

The Immune System:

Chronic stress weakens the immune system, making us more susceptible to infections and illnesses. It does so by disrupting the intricate balance of immune cells, impairing their ability to effectively defend the body against pathogens.

Studies reveal that stress mediators can pass through the blood-brain barrier and exert their effects on the immune system. To make matters worse, stress negatively impacts the release of growth hormone, a critical chemical that’s responsible for everything from the growth of bone, muscle and cartilage to the production of protein, utilization of fat and contribution to bone density.

Cardiovascular System:

Stress, whether acute or chronic, has a deleterious effect on the function of the cardiovascular system. Prolonged stress contributes to elevated blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

In fact, the constant release of stress hormones can damage blood vessels and promote inflammation, further compromising cardiovascular health.

According to a recent analysis, a significant number of cardiovascular events occur in individuals who lack the traditional risk factors. Stresses from anger, fear, work, financial problems, depression, economic status and more have been shown to accelerate atherosclerosis.

Memory and Learning:

Stress and our ability to create memories and learn new information are inversely correlated. High levels of cortisol impairs total memory function and the conversion of short-term memory to long-term memory. This is because the hippocampus (which is responsible for memory) has the highest density of cortisol receptors and is thus particularly impacted by our level of stress.

Stress also has a negative effect on learning. Similar to memory, cognition is mainly formed in the hippocampus and thus stress causes a reduction in our capacity to learn. By reducing stress, we can increase both our cognition and retention.

Nutritional and Gastrointestinal Implications:

The effects of stress on our nutrition and GI systems are multifold. First, stress affects appetite. Some of us stress eat. For others (including myself), stress diminishes appetite. Neither outcomes are good and both detract from our health.

In addition, stress adversely impacts the normal function of the GI tract. It disrupts the natural absorption process, resulting in GI inflammation and challenges with the regular movement of our digestive tract, effectively preventing our stomachs from emptying.

Impaired nutrient absorption and decreased motility of our stomach-emptying process is an unfortunate, uncomfortable and particularly harmful impact of stress.

Mental Health:

Stress is closely linked to mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and burnout. It can exacerbate existing mental health conditions and impede cognitive function, affecting memory, concentration and decision-making abilities. And while a detailed analysis of the role of stress on mental health deserves its own post, it should hopefully be evident that stress has major implications for our mental health and well-being.

Sleep Implications:

Stress manifests itself in so many ways and its impact varies across individuals. Sleep is one critical category where I’ve personally found stress to be particular harmful. When I’m stressed, I find that the quality and length of my sleep is directly impacted. I experience bouts of awakeness throughout the night and the quality of my sleep (as evidenced by data from my Oura ring) is significantly impaired.

Poor sleep directly impacts all of the themes outlined above (cardiovascular, memory, learning, mental health and nutrition) and I’ve even found that my mental toughness and ability to navigate normal daily challenges to be particularly sensitive to sleep quality. When I’m rested, I slice through challenges and burst through walls – when I’m exhausted, overcoming smaller challenges feels like it takes a herculean effort.

Strategies for Stress Management

Acknowledging the profound impact of stress on our bodies underscores the importance of proactive stress management strategies. While eliminating stress entirely may be unrealistic, adopting healthy coping mechanisms can help mitigate its effects:

  • Mindfulness and Meditation: Practices like mindfulness meditation promote relaxation and cultivate a sense of inner calm, reducing the physiological response to stress
  • Regular Exercise: Physical activity not only improves cardiovascular health but also releases endorphins, the body’s natural stress relievers. For me, regular participation in fitness activities is a non-negotiable staple of my daily stress management and mental health routine
  • Healthy Lifestyle Choices: Prioritizing adequate sleep, maintaining a balanced diet and limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption support overall well-being and resilience against stress.
  • Seeking Support: Connecting with friends, family or a therapist provides an outlet for expressing emotions and gaining perspective on stressors. There’s a very clear and vital connection between social connections and health

Understanding the physiological impact of stress is crucial for fostering a holistic approach to well-being. By recognizing the interconnectedness of mind and body, we empower ourselves to implement proactive strategies that promote resilience and mitigate the harmful effects of stress. Embracing self-care practices and fostering supportive relationships are not just luxuries but essential investments in our long-term health and vitality.

It’s time we prioritize our well-being and strive for balance in an increasingly hectic world.


  • Ryan Frankel

    Entrepreneur, Founder of This App Saves Lives, Mentor, Fitness Enthusiast, Proud Dad x2

    Ryan is the creator of Longevity Today (, a longevity and wellness newsletter. Ryan is a serial entrepreneur and most recently was the Founder of This App Saves Lives, ("TASL"), a mobile app-based solution that rewards undistracted driving behavior. Previously, Ryan founded the online nutrition coaching platform, EduPlated. He was the CEO and Co-Founder of VerbalizeIt, a language translation services company featured on Shark Tank and which was acquired in 2016. Ryan is an author, Wharton MBA alumnus, mentor, Inc. Magazine Top 35 Under 35 entrepreneur and an Ironman triathlete. You'll find him residing just outside of Philadelphia with his wife, two kids, Golden Retriever and pair of running shoes.