Can Stress Kill You?

By: Gabrielle Seunagal

Updated February 10, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Debra Halseth, LCSW

It's pretty well established that stress is not a very healthy state of existence. However, due to the unfortunate prevalence of stress, the toxic effects are often minimized. A lack of awareness of stress-induced effects will not make theme go away. As a matter of fact, lacking the proper knowledge of stress can prevent someone from recognizing relevant warning signs.


To be clear, stress can and has killed people. This is something which everyone should be aware of. However, before understanding exactly how and why stress can kill you, having a basic understanding of stress itself is imperative.

A General Overview Of Stress

First and foremost, there are several different kinds of stress. Acute stress is the most frequent form of stress and generally happens when minor frustrations or pressures arise. In most cases, acute stress is short-term and can be overcome with minimal effort. Acute stress is also the mildest manifestation of stress.

Next comes episodic acute stress. This is the next level of stress and tends to occur when acute stress becomes habitual. Nine times out of ten, when someone is regularly going through episodic acute stress, this is a sign that they have not resolved an ongoing problem in their life. In other cases, episodic acute stress can be a warning sign that a change is necessary. Episodic acute stress is especially problematic because people are more susceptible to adapting to it.

The most dangerous kind of stress comes in the form of chronic stress. By the time someone reaches the point of chronic stress, this feeling has become unrelenting and seemingly all-powerful. Chronic stress can happen after acute stress or episodic acute stress go untreated. In another scenarios, unresolved trauma from the past can trigger or worsen chronic stress. Either way, a chronically stressed individual can suffer from a number of serious health conditions. They are at risk of significant physical and mental health issues.

How Does Stress Kill You?

In the majority of cases, stress kills people slowly and insidiously. Before death, however, there are a series of health deterioration which stressed individuals usually experience. Stress which goes unmanaged, unaddressed, and untreated has the greatest propensity to kill. Many people fail to realize this and even become adjusted to chronic stress and other unhealthy forms of existence. This does not serve them well in the long run. Understanding exactly how stress kills you and what you can do about it matters for everyone. Having and employing this knowledge has the power to save countless lives.


Attacks on the Immune System

When a person deals with ongoing stress on a consistent basis, their immune system begins to suffer accordingly. First, the immune system will quite literally "close" as the body attempts to fight off the negative chemical imbalances associated with ongoing stress. This particular internal shutdown happens when stress reaches chronic levels; furthermore, this explains why many individuals are more prone to sickness when they are regularly stressed out. Additional stress patterns also have the ability to weaken the immune system.

Attacks on the Heart

Stress takes a toll on the human heart as well. During regular episodes of stress, blood pressure mounts which in turn causes small vessels within the body to experience strains. Over time, this can damage blood vessels which opens the door to all kinds of additional, unwanted health issues. These unwanted health issues include, but are not always limited to, lower amounts of blood transportation to the heart or brain and the increased likelihood of experiencing a heart attack. Many people have died because of heart attacks, so this is nothing to take lightly.

Attacks on the Memory

Ongoing stress has been proven to generate chemicals in the brain. These chemicals impede the functions of the hippocampus, a part of the brain which controls emotions, learning, and memory capabilities. With time, these attacks can make it easier for stressed individuals to forget certain details and increase the struggle of remembering basic information. It goes without saying that this type of damage causes all kinds of additional issues.

Increased Likelihood of Fatal Diseases

The increased likelihood of experiencing fatal diseases serves as yet another way in which stress kills. Liver cirrhosis, lung disease, cancer, and even suicide can be linked to chronic stress. This does not mean that every individual who experiences high levels of stress will perish from one of theese diseases. However, an individual's susceptibility to these diseases does increase with chronic stress, especially if they are regularly exposed to additional risk factors.

Leading Causes Of Stress

Knowing that stress can kill you is very important. However, in understanding the impacts of stress, knowing the leading causes of stress makes a difference as well. Not only is this knowledge helpful for informational purposes, but it also allows people to take preventative steps to avoid situations which will generate stress and damage their mental, emotional, and physical stress.


In most cases, contact with events, places, and individuals which are trying or demanding have a tendency to generate stress. This can manifest in an individual's workplace, at home with their families or in a situation where they have too many obligations. Financial hardship and significant life changes are also leading causes of stress. Whenever a person finds themselves in a situation where they are unsure of what to do and yet feel helpless to escape, this has a tendency to create problems. When these problems are not dealt with in the proper manner, they can rapidly evolve into chronic stress.

Trauma which has yet to be resolved can also generate stress, even on an unconscious level. Under these types of circumstances, it's not uncommon for afflicted individuals to experience post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Addressing past issues is always healthy and beneficial. However, this isn't always pleasant and there are many cases where people prefer to sweep things under the rug instead of facing them head on. This may provide an immediate sense of relief, but it won't last. Serious issues don't simply go away when they are ignored. They have to be handled and dealt with in order for healing to happen.

Stress Doesn't Have To Kill You

Reading about the very damaging impacts that stress can have on people is understandably troubling and unsettling. However, there is good news and that news is that stress doesn't have to kill you. Contrary to what some people are told, each person is in control of their response to those stress including positions. I If you feel as though you may be exposed to certain risk factors which are tied to stress, then this is a sign that certain changes are in order.

These changes may involve changing your environment or letting go of certain friendships or relationships. In the beginning, this may present a challenge, but ultimately, you'll be better off emotionally, mentally, and physically. Reducing and steering clear of stress may furthermore involve self-evaluation and taking a look at certain issues which may be underlying. In the majority of cases, people are aware of what is generating stress in their lives; it simply becomes a matter of taking the appropriate actions in order to free oneself from the bondage of stress.

It's Okay To Ask For Help

Dealing with stress is a very serious feat and sometimes you can't do it all on your own…and that's okay. Knowing when to ask for help is very important and can make a significant difference in your life, especially when you're having a tough time or going through something challenging. It's times like these when having a support system in your corner makes all the difference in the world. When you're attempting to overcome or work through stress, family, friends, and other loved ones can truly be helpful as you embark on this journey.

Seeking Professional Guidance

As you work through issues and experience life, you may find that professional help and guidance have the potential to positively impact your life. Sometimes, people have a tendency to shy away from working with a therapist and there are various associated reasons. In certain cases, people are lead to believe that accepting professional help means that something is wrong with them. Other times, people have reservations about sharing very intimate, personal details with someone who they don't know.


At BetterHelp, there is no judgment. As a matter of fact, our one and only objective is to be of help to anyone who comes to us. This means getting to know you, working directly with you, and providing feedback and guidance which can benefit you in your life. BetterHelp is an amazing service which has improved countless lives. The choice is yours, but BetterHelp will always be here as an option for those who are ready to make the rest of their life the best of their life.

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