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  /  Ayurveda   /  The 7 Emotional Effects of Stress

Although most stress effects are temporary and can be overcome over time, the effects of chronic stress may be long-lasting. We look at some of the emotional effects of stress, their symptoms, and side effects, and how you can overcome them.

What Is Emotional Stress?

Stress is a normal physiological reaction to cope with the pressures of everyday life. Emotions such as fear, anger, and sadness are some of the typical responses to stressful situations.

But when you have to face stress constantly so much that it interferes with your ability to do the things you want to do or have to do, you should know that stress has become unhealthy.

Symptoms of Emotional Stress

The symptoms of emotional stress can reveal themselves physically, mentally, or in your behavior. Physical symptoms of stress include:

  • Pain in your shoulders, neck, and back
  • General body pain
  • Headaches
  • A feeling of heaviness in your chest or chest pain
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid weight loss or weight gain
  • Stomach upset, diarrhea, or constipation
  • Constantly grinding your teeth 
  • Muscle tension or clenching your jaw
  • Fatigue
  • Excess or inadequate sleep

Mental or behavioral symptoms include:

  • Inability to remember certain incidents or track events
  • Frequent outbursts of emotions or emotional peaks and lows
  • Constant sensation of overwhelmingness
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Lack of concentration
  • Inability to complete tasks or solve challenges
  • Depending on alcohol or narcotics to relieve extreme emotional stress

In addition to the above symptoms, stress can also cause some serious emotional disturbances {1}. There are also many side effects of emotional stress that may take a toll on your physical and mental well-being.


Irritability or anger are common traits in people who are stressed. Constant stress or worrying about things that are out of your control can lead to unwarranted outbursts of anger at people or situations around you.

A study in 2014 found that mental stress and elevated levels of anger increase the risk of stress-related heart attacks.

The study also found that traits like anger and irritability can either occur as a response to certain situations or be a part of an individual’s natural attribute. These traits are often triggered due to mental stress and could lead to serious conditions such as myocardial ischemia, a situation where the blood supply to your heart is reduced and inhibits the oxygen supply.

The study also found that individuals with a psychological tendency to get angry or irritated may be at higher risk of such heart conditions when they encounter extreme emotional stress {2}.


Constantly coming across stressful situations can put you at risk of depression. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), depression is defined as a condition that leads to constant bouts of severely low moods.

This is called persistent depressive disorder, also known as dysthymia. It is characterized by low, dark, or sad moods that are persistent for a majority of the day on most days. The ADAA classifies such conditions as a persistent disorder if an individual has these symptoms for at least two years.

Kids and adolescents are diagnosed with this condition if they have symptoms such as irritability for at least one year {3}.

There have been many studies that have linked chronic stress to depression. One such study carried out in 2016 found that depression could be a result of the chronic effect of environmental stress factors and the long-term effects of stressful situations that kids encounter during their childhood.

Such experiences could lead to a hyperactive hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis which plays a central role in your body’s stress response mechanism. An imbalance in the function of these critical glands could lead to mood disorders {4}.

Another 2015 study indicated that the reports of depression were more common among people who had encountered higher stress levels. The study involved people from the working age population and measured the participants’ symptoms and overall stress levels {5}.

Evidence from a separate study has linked stressful life events to the onset of depression. The study involved more than 13,000 participants in Denmark and revealed that incidences of depression were linked to recent divorces, unemployment, and suicides by relatives {13}.

A different study found that a major medical illness is considered an extremely stressful event in your life and is a cause of high rates of depression {14}. For example, a medical analysis indicated that 24% of cancer patients are diagnosed with major depression {15}.


Anxiety is distinct from depression. Anxiety typically leads to feelings of overwhelming dread and fear. Several studies have linked anxiety and anxiety-related disorders to chronic stress.

Some long-term follow-up studies have found that anxiety is a common precursor to depression. These studies indicate that individuals with anxiety are likely to get major depression after stressful life events occur {10}.

One such study carried out in 2015 revealed that stressors such as job insecurity and domestic disputes are deeply linked to symptoms of anxiety. The study found that these factors affect both men and women equally.

It also indicated that stress causes anxiety in both men and women irrespective of other factors such as level of income, the number of children, job support, and domestic stress. The levels of stress were also found to be the same across genders irrespective of the job demands, which means the expectations out of the job or the positions held by the individuals.

According to the study, stressors such as job insecurity and domestic disputes led to symptoms of depression and anxiety in men and women equally irrespective of their ethnic background {6}.

Concentration and Memory Issues

If you feel you’re unable to concentrate on tasks as compared to before or find yourself being hard-pressed to recollect important events or things that you would otherwise remember, stress may be at the root of these changes.

Stress can have varying effects on receiving, storing, and retrieving capabilities of information in an individual. This depends on the level of stress and other factors that impact the cognitive functions of the brain.

These parameters include the magnitude and intensity of the stress, the time when an individual undergoes the stress (in other words, the mental condition of the individual), the duration of the stress, and the capability of the individual to handle the stress.

If an individual thinks that an event or situation is out of his control and that there is nothing that they can do to address the situation, this itself could lead to additional stress. Research has shown that stressors that are beyond the capabilities of the individual may lead to a deeper impact on an individual as compared to controllable factors.

The studies show that damaging neurochemical changes in the brain are much more noticeable when you come across a situation that you think you cannot respond to as compared to one where you feel an adequate response is possible.

Studies have also found that the ability of the brain to comprehend information under stress is severely hampered. When under stress, it’s also difficult to retrieve previously stored information.

Experts have linked the effects of stress on the brain to a specific part called the hippocampus. This part is critical for the formation of long-term memories and is also one of the first parts to be impacted by your body’s stress response – that is, the stress hormones.

One of the causes is the severe restriction of the hippocampal elasticity when it experiences stress and subsequently the glucocorticoids that your body’s stress response mechanism releases {7} {8}.

Compulsiveness and Addiction

Experts have widely linked severe stress to drastic changes in your behavior. Recent studies have found that the emotional effects of stress could be so severe that it can lead to addiction.

Chronic stress could lead to a restructuring in the brain, more specifically, in the striatum. This part of the brain is central to the reward and reinforcement circuit and also controls behavioral and sleep patterns. This modifies the habit and addiction response of the brain.

Studies have also found a link between your body’s stress response and the onset of addictive disorders {9}. Studies have linked chronic stress to increased incidences of smoking and substance use {10}. One such study that involved seamen in a naval training center revealed that more cigarette smoking occurred on high-stress days {11}.

Stress due to certain life events and chronic stress has also been linked to an increased intake of alcohol {12}. Populations that live in high-stress environments are more likely to indulge in substance use. This includes communities that witness high divorce rates, business failures, and natural disasters, all of which are high-stress events {13}.

Drastic Changes in Mood

Stress has a deep psychological effect and encountering stressful situations frequently during childhood has been linked to many developmental challenges.

Chronic stress during these developmental years leads to long-lasting neurobiological effects linked to an increased risk of anxiety and mood disorders. It could also cause other conditions such as hypo-immune dysfunction, structural changes in the central nervous system, and aggressive dyscontrol problems that manifest as violent or aggressive behavior.

Typically, young and fit individuals can cope well with acute stress, and stressful situations do not put any specific strain or liability on their mental and physiological capabilities. That said, if these people constantly come across stressful situations, the long-term effects of stress could lead to considerable damage to their health.

The impact of stressors increases with advancing age. Other factors also influence the degree to which these psychosocial elements affect your health.

These include the type of the stressor, their nature, the number, and the persistence of these stressors. On the other hand, the traits of the individual such as the nature of the person who comes in contact with these stressors and their physiological and biological vulnerability (such as their genetics and constitutional factors) also reflect the extent of the impact of stressors.

Other factors such as psychosocial soundness and how they cope with stressors also play a vital role in reducing its impact on health {10}.

Low Libido

Too much stress has also been known to negatively impact your sex drive. A 2014 study identified that chronic stress led to lower libido. According to the study, this was due to a combination of increased levels of cortisol as well as the likelihood of distractions caused by stress.

Although most of the research regarding the effects of stress on libido involves women, there is enough evidence to state that stress affects both genders when it comes to sexual desire {16}.

Five Effective Ways to Manage Stress

The demands of the modern lifestyle can get overwhelming at times. The expectations in your professional, personal, and social life could be enormously stressful and often leave you with no time to unwind and attend to your physical and mental health.

There are many ways to handle stress effectively but it takes practice and discipline. Some of the most effective ways to handle stress are:

  • Understand the biggest causes of stress in your life and eliminate them
  • Practice deep breathing
  • Meditate
  • Exercise 
  • Make time for activities you enjoy doing

Practice Yogic (Deep) Breathing

Conscious deep breathing is one of the most effective relaxation techniques practiced and taught around the world to reduce the emotional effects of stress.

Research has found that deep breathing techniques lead to an overall sense of well-being and also improves motor abilities, optimum heart rate, blood pressure, and cardiorespiratory function.

Regular practice has also been found to have positive effects on specific mood states such as anxiety and response to perceived stressful situations. Similar studies have found that breathing exercises lead to improved academic performance {17}.

Studies have found that yogic breathing techniques such as pranayamas and Sudarshan Kriya have a profound effect on the psychophysiological state.

In one such study, participants were taught the Sudarshan Kriya technique (as part of the Happiness Program) to help overcome stress. The participants involved in the study shared that they felt an improved sense of calmness and alertness after practicing Sudarshan Kriya.

Not only this, the participants also describe feeling peaceful, clear-minded, more happy, focused, and a deeper sense of connection to others after practicing the Sudarshan Kriya {18}.


Meditation is an ancient practice that has been effective for thousands of years. Although largely thought of as a spiritual practice, meditation has fast become one of the most surefire ways to manage stress and bring balance to people’s busy lifestyles.

Research has shown that meditation helps both your emotional well-being and overall health. The positive impact of meditation lasts much longer than just the minutes that you devote to the practice.

Meditation helps you remain calm and centered during chaotic events and may also help you manage certain medical conditions {19}.

Research has also revealed that specific meditation techniques (taught as part of the Art of Meditation workshop) increase beta-activity in the left-frontal, occipital, and midline regions of the brain which are indicative of higher levels of mental focus and heightened awareness {20}.

Participating in stress relief programs gives you the tools and techniques necessary to handle stressful situations.


Regular exercise is an effective way to relax your body and mind. But it’s important to be disciplined and regular to get any sort of benefit from these activities. Strenuous activities like running and jogging are a great way to physically relieve stress and tension.

Relaxing physical techniques such as yoga work different muscles all over your body while also bringing relaxation to your mind. A lot of research has gone into studying the positive impact of yoga in managing stress.

A 2018 study that involved more than 50 participants found that yoga helps reduce stress, anxiety, and depression after just 12 sessions {21}.

Another 2015 study found that the psychological mechanisms that make yoga an effective counter to stress include an increase in a positive attitude, enhanced self-awareness, and improved coping mechanisms. The study also found that practicing yoga regularly improves mindfulness.

It defines mindfulness as a state of enhanced awareness and being in the present moment rather than letting events hamper your critical thought processes. The study also found important biological markers through which yoga lowers stress.

According to the study, yoga impacts several physiological processes that lead to improved initial response and ability to cope with stress. This is due to the positive effects of yoga on the autonomous nervous system, endothelial function, inflammatory and endocrine responses, and gene expression {22}.

Make Time for Hobbies

In the rush of life, don’t forget to take time out to do things you enjoy. Setting aside just 15 to 30 minutes of your time every day or week has been known to help relieve stress.

A study found that taking part in enjoyable leisure activities is linked to lower blood pressure, total cortisol levels, and improved psychosocial patterns that are linked to a relaxed state of mind. The study defined enjoyable leisure activities as those that you do voluntarily when you’re free from work and other responsibilities {23}.

These include simple physical or intellectual hobbies such as reading, doing an art project, playing golf, doing puzzles, or playing board games.

Identify Your Triggers

Stressors could vary from one person to another. It’s vital to identify situations and triggers that could cause you stress and work to eliminate these situations and triggers. It could be as simple as the commute to your work, or the profile of your job.

Keeping a journal where you note down situations that stress you out will help you understand and identify them. This in turn helps you avoid such events or be prepared for them and reduce your stress levels.

Bonus: Ayurvedic Treatments for Stress Relief

Research has shown the effectiveness of Ayurvedic therapies in eliminating stress (1) (2) (3). Some therapeutic treatments for stress relief include:

Abhyanga. Relaxes stiff muscles, enhances circulation, and eliminates mental and physical fatigue {24}.

Shirodhara. Stimulates the five senses and your mind, improves mental clarity, and relaxes you {25}.

Marma. Reduces anxiety and stress, regulates blood pressure and is a good option to maintain optimal physical and mental health {26}.

Shirovasti. Relaxes your central nervous system that improves brain activity and releases stress {27}.


Venkat - AuthorAbout the Author:

Venkat is a freelance writer and an SEO buff. He writes about health & wellness, technology, and finance. He’s also a certified yoga and meditation instructor.




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