Can Stress Cause Swollen Lymph Nodes?

By: Margaret Wack

Updated April 29, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn

If you're feeling stressed out, you may be experiencing a whole host of physical symptoms in addition to mental and emotional stress. Stress can affect many different areas of the body, leading to symptoms including physical pain, muscle tension, fatigue, changes in sleep and appetite, and much more.

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In addition to these symptoms, a less common but still significant symptom of anxiety can be swollen lymph nodes. While swollen lymph nodes can be caused by a variety of other illnesses, including strep throat, mononucleosis, and even cancer, they are also a possible symptom of stress and anxiety. If you're suffering from swollen lymph nodes and aren't sure of the cause, be sure to check with your doctor to determine what the best course of treatment is.

How Stress Causes Swollen Lymph Nodes

Lymph nodes are small organs located throughout the body that are part of the immune system. They help to protect the body against illness and disease by filtering out harmful substances. There are groups of lymph nodes, especially concentrated in the neck, torso, chest, and other areas of the body. Lymph nodes also store white blood cells, which fight off harmful bacteria and other particles to keep the body healthy and safe from illness.

When the body is subject to stress or infection, the lymph nodes can swell and become larger than usual. Lymph nodes can also become tender to the touch and may be accompanied by fever, congestion, sore throat, and other related symptoms. In most cases, lymph nodes return to their normal size once the body has fought off the source of infection or disease.

Swollen lymph nodes can sometimes be caused by stress, and are an example of a physical symptom resulting from mental illness. While the process by which stress and anxiety cause lymph nodes are unclear, they're often correlated, especially when other physical symptoms of stress are present. Although there is no direct link between swollen lymph nodes and stress, swollen lymph nodes or perceived soreness where lymph nodes are present can be the result of stress, anxiety, or other mental illnesses.

There may be a link between stress and a lowered immune system, which means lymph nodes have to work harder to help protect the body. Due to a lowered immune system, the body may also be more likely to experience mild illnesses, including colds, fevers, and infections associated with swollen lymph. Swollen lymph nodes can also be the result of stress anxiety, which causes people to feel as if they are experiencing illnesses, even when they may be otherwise healthy. Muscle tension, a common symptom of stress, can also imitate the feeling of lymph nodes when the neck becomes tense and sore.


In addition to these specific symptoms, anxiety can cause a variety of physical symptoms in the body related to the lymph nodes, and symptoms can vary from person to person. If you're not sure whether your swollen lymph nodes or other physical symptoms are the results of stress and anxiety or another illness, be sure to consult a medical professional to make sure that there's nothing more serious going on. If your swollen lymph nodes are caused by stress, you can explore potential treatment options, including medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes, among others.

Other Potential Causes Of Swollen Lymph Nodes

While stress and anxiety may be potential causes of swollen lymph nodes, there are also a variety of other primarily physical causes. These can include common illnesses like colds and strep throat, as well as more serious diseases like cancer. If you're experiencing swollen lymph nodes, be sure to rule out serious illness and pursue the treatment options that are appropriate to your particular situation.

Swollen lymph nodes can be caused by common illnesses like the common cold, the flu, and viral stomach infections. They may also be caused by illnesses including skin infections, ear infections, tooth infections, some sexually transmitted diseases, and mononucleosis. In rare cases, swollen lymph nodes can result from lupus, measles, rheumatoid arthritis, tuberculosis, and more. Swollen lymph nodes may also be a symptom of leukemia and other kinds of cancer.

While having swollen lymph nodes due to stress may be painful and worrying, there's usually no cause for concern. In many cases, swollen lymph nodes are the result of common illnesses that usually clear up after a few days to a few weeks. In some rarer instances, additional treatment may be necessary. Seeking the help of a medical professional can help you to determine the reason for your swollen lymph nodes.

Other Symptoms Of Stress And Anxiety

If you think your swollen lymph nodes may be related to stress and anxiety, it's a good idea to check and see whether you might be experiencing any other related symptoms. While everyone experiences stress and anxiety differently, and symptoms may vary from person to person, there are some common symptoms to watch out for.

Physical symptoms of anxiety can include fatigue, lethargy, unexplained or persistent physical pain, muscle tension, soreness, swollen lymph nodes, and more. In general, many people feel both physically and mentally exhausted, even if they haven't performed any strenuous activities. People may also experience physical pain throughout the body without a clear cause, which may manifest as swelling or soreness, as in the case of swollen lymph nodes.

Stress and anxiety also have a variety of mental and behavioral symptoms. Common behavioral symptoms can include trouble sleeping, excessive sleep, and changes in appetite and eating habits. Other symptoms may include irritability, excessive worrying, nervousness, feelings of impending dread or doom, loss of interest in usual activities, and more.

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If you find yourself suffering from symptoms of stress and anxiety, it's a good idea to check in with a medical professional to share your symptoms and explore a possible diagnosis. Whether you're looking to cure a specific symptom or simply improve your health as a whole, medical professionals can suggest a variety of treatment options that suit your needs.

How To Treat Stress And Anxiety

If you're suffering from stress and anxiety, there are a variety of effective and accessible treatment options. Stress and anxiety are common illnesses that affect many people, and there are proven ways to help reduce their effects. Since everyone is different and responds to treatment differently, it can be helpful to explore a variety of different options to find the one that works best for you!

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes can be a great way to reduce stress and anxiety. If you're feeling stressed out, try incorporating exercise into your daily routine. Exercise has been shown to have a positive effect on improving mood and physical fitness while reducing excessive worrying and intrusive thoughts. Exercise can also release feel-good hormones into the body that help to reduce emotional symptoms of stress and anxiety. Other lifestyle changes may include eating well, reducing the use of drugs and alcohol, and getting enough sleep each night.


If you're suffering from stress and anxiety, medication prescribed by your doctor may help to manage these symptoms. Everyone reacts differently to different medications, so it may take a few tries to find an option that works best for you. If you suffer from severe symptoms of stress and anxiety, including panic attacks, intrusive thoughts and worries, and other mental and physical symptoms, medication can help you find relief.


Whether you experience mild, moderate, or severe stress and anxiety, discussing and exploring your feelings, thoughts, and emotions can be an effective way to process and reduce negative feelings of stress. Therapy can be a great way to explore how you're feeling and potential causes of your stress. Therapy can also help you to work towards solutions to manage your symptoms and change the way that you react to stressful situations, as well as to help you avoid the root causes of stress and anxiety in the first place.

When To Seek Help

Are you suffering from symptoms of stress and anxiety-like swollen lymph nodes? Whether you're experiencing this or other symptoms, stress and anxiety can have a profound negative impact on both your physical and mental health. The good news is that stress and anxiety are common and treatable! If you're struggling with excessive stress and worry, along with concerning physical symptoms, consider seeking professional help.


In addition to consulting a doctor or other medical professional, it may also be beneficial to explore the root of your stress and anxiety to help you better navigate your mental health and related symptoms. Therapy can be a great way to explore stress and anxiety in a safe and supportive environment and come up with strategies to deal with stressful situations in the future. While everyone is different, therapy has had a positive impact on many different people!

BetterHelp offers a diverse selection of online therapy services that you can access from the comfort and privacy of your own home. Whether you're looking for strategies for coping with stress and anxiety or just need someone to talk to, BetterHelp's licensed therapists can help to navigate life's difficulties and manage your mental health. If you'd like to learn more, feel free to contact us!

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