How Does Stress Affect the Body? Even Daily Hassles Can Hurt Your Health

It's a fair question for any of us to ask: How does stress affect the body? The answer: Multiple ways, ranging from chronic headaches to joint pain to psoriasis. Our author has advice to help you avoid "sweating the small stuff."

how does stress affect the body

How does stress affect the body? In a number of ways, ranging from chronic headaches to joint pain to psoriasis. Our author has advice to help you avoid "sweating the small stuff."

© Stuart Monk | Dreamstime.com

Have you ever been on your way home from work and gotten stuck in the worst traffic imaginable? Does your kitchen sink seem to continuously find new ways to leak, no matter how many times you try to fix it? Do you get completely agitated when you can’t, for the life of you, find the rosemary in the spice cabinet? These sorts of daily, common problems affect all of us, and they are hard (if not impossible) to avoid. But how does stress affect the body, and what can we do about it?

Chronic Stress vs. Daily Hassles

Stress can come in many forms. Stressful life events include things like divorce, death of a loved one, or losing your job. Chronic stress involves ongoing problems such as living in poverty, a troubled marriage, or working a difficult job. Daily hassles are minor in comparison, and consist of things like family arguments, lost keys, or household repairs.[1]

Numerous studies have examined the effect of chronic stress on health; not surprisingly, chronic stress is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, chronic health issues, and mortality.[2] But do daily stressors, which seem so minor in comparison, have the same effects?

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Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Although daily stressors are, indeed, less severe than chronic stressors or stressful life events, they are still associated with the same negative effects on physical health.

In fact, people report fewer physical symptoms and higher levels of overall health on stressor-free days compared to days in which daily hassles are experienced. Daily stressors also exacerbate symptoms of chronic health conditions, such as joint pain, psoriasis, and chronic tension headaches.[2]

Daily hassles also have long-term effects. They can affect cardiovascular, immune, and neuroendocrine functioning. As one researcher puts it, “ongoing physiological changes such as these lead to biological wear-and-tear, which, in turn, may increase one’s susceptibility to illness later in life.”[2] A study in the journal Experimental Gerontology, following 1,293 men over many years, found that both stressful life events and daily hassles increased the risk for mortality, independently of each other.[1]

Another study found that it wasn’t necessarily the amount of daily stressors people experience that increase their risk of long-term health problems; instead, it was the way people negatively reacted to daily stressors that was strongly associated with chronic health conditions later in life.[2] The results suggest that it isn’t how much we are exposed to daily hassles and problems that puts us at risk, but more how we react and deal with them.

Managing Daily Hassles

Luckily, there are many ways to reduce stress and improve your ability to cope with daily problems. Meditation, yoga, or other mindfulness-based techniques are great ways to keep your mind calm. Even taking a short walk when you feel overwhelmed by the day’s events can help you cope better. Research also suggests that biofeedback training can be extremely effective in reducing daily stress levels and physiological markers of stress like cortisol levels.[3] One of my favorite ways to manage daily stress is to breathe slowly and deeply; just five short minutes of deep-paced breathing leaves me feeling calm, refreshed, and ready to take another stab at the spice cabinet. (In case you were wondering, the rosemary was hiding behind the sage.)

Share Your Experience

Do you find yourself getting worked up over minor issues during the day? What do you do to deal with daily hassles better? Share your tips in the comments section below.


[1] Exp Gerontol. 2014 Nov;59:74-80.

[2] Ann Behav Med. 2013 Feb;45(1):110-20.

[3] Brain Behav. 2014 Jul;4(4):566-79.


Originally published in 2015 and updated.

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Comments
  • I have found that having a regular exercise routine helps me better manage small stressors (and big ones too!) Getting outside in fresh air and sunlight helps too.

  • I couldn’t agree more. Taking even a short walk helps me a lot – especially on a nice day when the sun is out.

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