How Do Negative Emotions Affect Physical Health?

  • Medical Reviewer: Dany Paul Baby, MD
Medically Reviewed on 5/31/2022
Negative emotions may seem short-lived, but poor mental health can wreak havoc on your physical health.
Negative emotions may seem short-lived, but poor mental health can wreak havoc on your physical health.

What are the effects of emotions on physical health? Negative emotions may seem short-lived, but poor mental health can wreak havoc on your physical health. Stress, for example, can cause bodily symptoms such as anxiety and chest pain, and it can even be a trigger for substance abuse.

Other negative emotions such as anger, grief, and anxiety can similarly cause physical symptoms. Learn more about the effects of these mental states on your body and make a plan to protect your health.

What are the effects of emotions on physical health?

It may be difficult to believe that negative emotions can cause lasting damage to the physical body — and you may not be aware of your level of stress or your emotional triggers. Short-term spurts of anger or anxiety are beneficial to our survival as a species, as they keep us alert when there is danger or aid us in confronting an attacker. Being in a perpetual state of negative emotion, in contrast, is harmful to the human body.

Which negative emotions affect physical health?

Negative emotions may be as clear-cut as anger and fear, or they may be more confusing and complex, like helplessness, guilt, and jealousy. It’s important to name the feelings you’re experiencing before you attempt to get rid of them entirely. Certain emotions are linked to physical health problems. Consider the four below and ask yourself whether you know how to recognize them in your own life.


Short-term periods of stress may enable you to work harder, adapt to a life challenge, and help you focus when you’re doing something important. Long-term stress, though, can weaken your immune system, give you an upset stomach, and contribute to tight muscles. It can also cause headaches, chronic insomnia, and high blood pressure.

It’s crucial to take steps to decrease your level of stress so that it does not leave you with lasting and irreversible physical health problems. There is no blood test you can take to determine how stressed you are. Your doctor will diagnose stress based on your reports and his or her observation of your behavior. Experts recommend gentle physical activity, meditation, and breathing exercises as a start to counteract the pervasive symptoms of negative emotions and stress that can affect your entire body.


Like stress, long-term anger can put your physical health at risk. You may already know you have a problem with anger, or you may always feel annoyed, quick to lose your temper, or frustrated at everyone else’s perceived incompetence.

Frequent angry outbursts can increase your stress level, and they can also contribute to physical symptoms such as chest pain and higher-than-normal blood pressure. If you already have a heart condition, your chronic anger may affect your ability to recover and keep your heart healthy in the future.


Physical symptoms of anxiety such as sweaty palms and shaking hands are well-documented. If you have panic attacks or simply experience a lot of generalized anxiety every day, you may additionally notice tight muscles, a weak body, stomach problems, and a fast heartbeat. Untreated anxiety can cause several confusing and scary physical symptoms such as chest pain, shallow breathing, and muscle twitches.


Grief is as much a state of being as it is an emotion. It is often overwhelming and intense, and many researchers and mental health professionals believe that it is healthier to let grief work its way out of your life over time. This laid-back approach doesn’t always work, and sometimes people need help to move on. More complicated or prolonged grief may look different. Maybe you can’t stop thinking about your loss, are experiencing physical and mental health problems, or can’t seem to think or talk about anything but your loss.

Like the negative emotions listed above, grief affects the physical body in various ways. Symptoms of both short-term and prolonged grief may include tiredness, body aches, and sleep issues.

It's important to note that the grieving process does take time. If you notice yourself feeling stuck in your negative emotions or if your physical health has taken a turn for the worse after a loss, it may be time to get in touch with your doctor or mental health professional to develop new ways to cope.


Laughter feels good because… See Answer

Can positive emotions boost physical health?

Negative emotions may slowly destroy your physical health if you let them — but you are not powerless against these feelings. Sustained positive emotions can have the opposite effect over time. People who are more positive tend to live longer, get sick less often, and have fewer physical symptoms of pain. You may wish to decrease your levels of stress, anxiety, anger, and the many negative emotions surrounding the grieving process by trying one or more of the following suggestions.

  • Positive thinking: It isn’t helpful to ignore negative emotions, but you can help your brain think differently about difficult situations by reframing your thoughts and holding different mental conversations with yourself. Using your sense of humor to get through the day, practicing gratitude, and simply avoiding those who make you feel more negative can go a long way toward a mental health reset. Over time, the decrease in negative emotions will help your physical body remain healthier.
  • Resilience: Though people don’t come with a “reset” button, the human body and mind are remarkably resilient and can recover from long-term negative emotions. You can work on increasing your resiliency by letting go of past hurts, accepting normal life changes, and making plans to fix problems in your life rather than dwelling on them or assuming they will go away.
  • Faking it: If you feel miserable and no amount of breathing and humor therapy can reduce your stress or anger, try smiling. Even faking a smile when you feel sad or angry can trick your brain into lowering your stress levels.

If you live with chronic negative emotions, you’re not alone — and you’re not imagining the fact that they’re affecting your physical health. Talk to your doctor about how to best manage your negative emotions so that you may live a calmer, more peaceful life with fewer physical health problems.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medically Reviewed on 5/31/2022
American Heart Association: “Coping with Feelings.”

American Psychological Association: “Grief: Coping with the loss of your loved one.”

Association for Psychological Science: “Grin and Bear It! Smiling Facilitates Stress Recovery.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Stress.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “The Power of Positive Thinking.”, “Recognizing and Coping with Negative Emotions.”

Mayo Clinic: “Anxiety disorders.”, “Positive thinking: Stop negative self-talk to reduce stress.”, “Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior.”

Utz, R.L. et al. "Grief, Depressive Symptoms, and Physical Health Among Recently Bereaved Spouses." The Gerontologist, 2012.

University of Minnesota: “How Do Thoughts and Emotions Affect Health?”