Stress is a term you’re likely familiar with. You may also know exactly what stress feels like. However, what does stress exactly mean? This body response is natural in the face of danger, and it’s what helped our ancestors cope with occasional hazards. Short-term (acute) stress isn’t likely to cause any major health concerns.

But the story’s different with long-term (chronic) stress. When you’re under stress for days — or even weeks or months — you’re at risk for numerous health effects. Such risks may extend to your body and mind, as well as your emotional well-being. Stress may even lead to an inflammatory response in the body, which has been associated with numerous chronic health issues.

Learn more facts about stress, as well as some of the possible contributing factors. Knowing the signs and causes of stress can help you treat it.

This response all starts with a part of your brain called the hypothalamus. When you’re stressed, the hypothalamus sends signals throughout your nervous system and to your kidneys.

In turn, your kidneys release stress hormones. These include adrenaline and cortisol.

Women are more likely to experience more physical signs of stressed compared to their male counterparts.

This doesn’t mean that men don’t experience stress. Instead, men are more likely to try to escape from the stress and not exhibit any signs.

You may be flooded with thoughts about the future and your daily to-do list.

Rather than focusing on one item at a time though, these thoughts bombard your mind all at once, and it’s difficult to escape them.

Your fingers may shake, and your body might feel off-balance. Sometimes dizziness can occur. These effects are linked to hormonal releases — for example, adrenaline can cause a surge of jittery energy throughout your body.

This is caused by a rise in blood pressure. You may get hot in situations where you’re nervous too, such as when you have to give a presentation.

Stress-related sweat is usually a follow-up to excessive body heat from stress. You might sweat from your forehead, armpits, and groin area.

Stress can make your digestive system go haywire, causing diarrhea, stomach upset, and excessive urination.

This is due to an accumulation of stress’s effects in the mind. It can also occur when stress affects the way you sleep.

Constant overwhelming stress can take its toll, and bring down your overall outlook on life. Feelings of guilt are possible too.

When you can’t quiet down racing thoughts at night, sleep may be hard to come by.

This may be related to insomnia, but sleepiness may also develop from simply being exhausted from chronic stress.

These are often called tension headaches. The headaches may crop up every time you encounter stress, or they may be ongoing in cases of long-term stress.

Shortness of breath is common with stress, and it can then turn into nervousness.

People with social anxiety often have shortness of breath when they encounter stressful situations. The actual breath issues are related to tightness in your breathing muscles. As the muscles get more tired, your shortness of breath may worsen. In extreme cases, this may lead to a panic attack.

Acne breakouts can occur in some people, while others might have itchy rashes. Both symptoms are related to an inflammatory response from stress.

In turn, you’ll likely experience more frequent colds and flus, even when it isn’t the season for these illnesses.

Some women may miss their period as a result of being stressed.

One study found that women reported feeling less interested in sex when they were anxious. Their bodies also reacted differently to sexual stimulation when they were anxious.

People who experience a lot of stress are more likely to smoke cigarettes and misuse drugs and alcohol. Depending on these substances for stress relief can cause other health problems.

This is associated with cortisol releases that can increase blood glucose (sugar) production.

Although stress doesn’t directly cause ulcers, it can aggravate any existing ulcers you may already have.

Excessive cortisol releases from adrenal glands above the kidneys may lead to fat accumulation. Stress-related eating habits, such as eating junk food or binge eating, may also lead to excess pounds.

Chronic stress and an unhealthy lifestyle will cause your blood pressure to rise. Over time, high blood pressure can cause permanent damage to your heart.

Abnormal heartbeats and chest pain are symptoms that can be caused by stress.

This could be a flashback or a more significant reminder related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Women are up to three times more likely to have PTSD than men.

If you have a family member with overactive responses to stress, you might experience the same.

If you eat a lot of junk or processed foods, the excess fat, sugar, and sodium increase inflammation.

In addition to being good for your heart, exercise also helps your brain make serotonin. This brain chemical can help you maintain a healthy outlook on stress, while warding off anxiety and depression.

A lack of support at home can make stress worse, while not taking time off with your friends and family can have similar effects.

According to the Mayo Clinic, people who manage stress tend to live longer and healthier lives.

Everyone experiences occasional stress. Because our lives are increasingly jam-packed with obligations, such as school, work, and raising kids, it can seem like a stress-free day is impossible.

Given all the negative effects long-term stress can have on your health, though, it’s worth making stress relief a priority. (Over time, you’ll likely be happier, too!).

If stress is getting in the way of your health and happiness, talk to your doctor about ways you can help manage it. Aside from diet, exercise, and relaxation techniques, they may also recommend medications and therapies.