Can Excessive Worry and Anxiety Cause a Stress Response?

Can Excessive Worry & Anxiety Cause a Stress Response?
Attribution: Man on Cell Phone Photograph by Alon, profile on Picture found at

Stress comes from the demands and pressures we experience each day. Long lines at the grocery store, rush hour traffic, a phone ringing nonstop, or a chronic illness are all examples of things that can cause stress on a daily basis. When worries and anxiety become excessive, chances are you’ll trigger the stress response.

There are two elements to the stress response. The first is the perception of the challenge. The second is an automatic physiological reaction called the “fight or flight” response that brings on a surge of adrenaline and sets your body on red alert. There was a time when the “fight or flight” response protected our ancestors from such dangers as wild animals that could easily make a meal out of them. Although we don’t ordinarily encounter wild animals we need to run from today, dangers still exist. They’re there in the form of a demanding coworker, a colicky baby, or a dispute with a loved one.

“Anxiety, stress, fear, phobia, and tension are often used interchangeably to describe one of this century’s most common problems. Anxiety has been called the official emotion of our age, the bases of all neuroses, and the most pervasive psychological phenomenon of our time. Anxiety is an inner feeling of apprehension, uneasiness, concern, worry, and/or dread that is accompanied by heightened physical arousal. In times of anxiety, the body appears to be on alert, ready to flee or fight. The heart beats faster, blood pressure and muscle tension increase, neurological and chemical changes occur within, sometimes perspiration appears and the person may feel faint, jumpy and unable to relax. Anxiety can vary in its intensity and influence. Intense anxiety can shorten one’s attention span, make concentration difficult, cause forgetfulness, hinder performance skills, interfere with problem solving, block effective communication, arouse panic, and sometimes cause unpleasant physical symptoms such as paralysis, rapid heartbeat or intense headaches.” (Source)

 Can Excessive Worry And Emotional Stress Make Me Physically Ill?

Chronic worry and emotional stress can trigger a host of health problems. The problem occurs when “fight or flight” is triggered daily by excessive worry and anxiety. The fight or flight response causes the body’s sympathetic nervous system to release stress hormones such as cortisol. These hormones can boost blood sugar levels and triglycerides (blood fats) that can be used by the body for fuel. The hormones also cause physical reactions such as:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Irritability
  • Muscle aches
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Nervous energy
  • Rapid breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Widespread pain
  • Trembling and twitching

When the excessive fuel in the blood isn’t used for physical activities, the chronic anxiety and outpouring of stress hormones can have serious physical consequences, including:

  • Suppression of the immune system
  • Digestive disorders
  • Muscle tension
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Premature coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack

In severe cases when excessive worrying and high anxiety go untreated, they can lead to depression and even suicidal thoughts.

Although these effects are a response to stress, stress is simply the trigger. Whether or not you become ill depends on how you handle stress. Physical responses to stress involve your immune system, your heart and blood vessels, and how certain glands in your body secrete hormones. These hormones help to regulate various functions in your body, such as brain function and nerve impulses.

All of these systems interact and are profoundly influenced by your coping style and your psychological state. It isn’t the stress that makes you ill. Rather, it’s the effect responses such as excessive worrying and anxiety have on these various interacting systems that can bring on the physical illness. There are things you can do, though, including lifestyle changes, to alter the way you respond.


The word calm is mentioned as an antonym in fear, worry and anxiety.

Proverb 17:27 He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit.

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