Can Stress Cause Swollen Lymph Nodes?

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Stress is a physical, emotional, and psychological reaction that occurs when a person is exposed to change or an external cause. While it's hard to escape stress, how we manage it is important.

Chronic emotional or physical stress can increase the risk of disease. Chronically stressed people may participate in unhealthy behaviors, such as lack of self-care, substance abuse, and sedentary behaviors.

However, not all stress is bad for your health. For instance, when your body experiences stress, such as when you are injured or ill, it releases an immune response that helps you heal.

Learn more about how stress impacts the body, including its effect on the immune system, lymph nodes, and treatment options for stress and anxiety.

Woman feeling for swollen lymph nodes

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How Stress Impacts the Body

Stress is interpreted differently in everyone, and it varies based on a person's ability to predict and control the stressor. The different levels of stress and their impact on the body depend on the type of stressor, duration of the stress, interpretation, and coping ability.

When a person is exposed to a stressor, a cascade of complex events connects the brain and the body. Adrenaline, other hormones, and neuropeptides are produced, activating the body and resulting in symptoms such as increased heart rate and faster breathing.

Typically, avoiding the stressor helps relieve symptoms of stress. But when a stressor persists, the body adapts and can no longer create an adequate response, resulting in chronic stress. Chronic stress can impact the immune system and damage multiple organs and tissues.

Other symptoms of stress include:

Stress and the Immune System

Stress impacts the immune system by causing higher levels of circulating cytokines (messengers between cells) and various biomarkers (a type of early-warning system) of inflammation. Stress hormones can also disrupt the function of the central nervous system (made up of the brain and spinal cord) and neuroendocrine system, which, in turn, impacts immune function.

Many diseases have been linked to stress and inflammation, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and mental health conditions like depression and anxiety disorders.

Causes of Swollen Lymph Nodes

The lymph nodes are involved in fighting infections and warding off harmful bacteria. The neck, armpit, and groin contain a cluster of lymph nodes. These lymph nodes have immune cells called lymphocytes. When a foreign invader, like bacteria, enters the body, lymphocytes are activated, resulting in swollen lymph nodes.

Typical causes of lymph node swelling include:

  • Infections (cold, flu, respiratory illness, tooth infection, ear infection, tonsilitis, etc.)
  • Immune or autoimmune disease
  • Cancer
  • Certain types of medications

Stress and Lymph Node Swelling

You are less likely to develop swollen lymph nodes if stressed about finances, work, family, or friends. However, physical stress due to an illness, injury, or infection can cause the lymph nodes to swell.

If you have had swollen lymph nodes for an extended period, you should contact your healthcare provider. You should also seek medical attention if:

  • Your lymph nodes continue to get larger and do not get smaller for several weeks.
  • They are tender and red.
  • They feel irregular, hard, or fixed in place.
  • You have unexplained weight loss, fever, or night sweats.
  • You have a persistent node of 1 centimeter (a little less than half an inch) or more in diameter.

In children, nodes can sometimes approach 2 centimeters and be fairly normal or related to relatively asymptomatic infection.

Treatment for Stress and Anxiety

While it is impossible to eliminate all stress, controlling stress is important. Anxiety disorders can make coping with stress more difficult. Although, these are highly treatable, only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.

If you are feeling stressed or anxious, it is important to reach out for help. Your treatment options will depend on how severe your symptoms are. For someone experiencing mild anxiety, behavioral interventions, such as yoga, deep breathing, meditation, and dietary changes, may be enough to feel better.

However, moderate-to-severe anxiety may require medication, mental health counseling, or peer support (as support groups).

Severe anxiety

If you or a loved one is struggling with severe anxiety, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.


It's unlikely psychological stress or anxiety leads to swollen lymph nodes. However, swollen lymph nodes can be a sign that your body is fighting an infection or illness. Swelling that is not going away or lymph nodes that feel or look different than usual should be examined.

In addition, if you are experiencing chronic psychological stress or anxiety, speak with your healthcare provider. Over time, chronic stress and anxiety can worsen, causing additional physical and mental distress and disease.

A Word From Verywell

Life is busy, fast-paced, and often stressful. Some mental and physical stress is necessary and healthy, but chronic stress is not. While we cannot eliminate stress completely, we can try to control our responses to it. Speak to your healthcare provider if you are feeling chronically stressed and anxious or notice that you have swollen lymph nodes that are not going away.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can lymph nodes swell for no reason?

    Lymph nodes don't usually swell for no reason. Lymph nodes swell in response to germs, such as bacteria and viruses, autoimmune diseases, certain medications, and cancers. In some case, a minor viral infection may be relatively asymptomatic (with few if any symptoms) other than the increased size of one or more lymph nodes. If these lymph nodes remain enlarged, medical evaluation is warranted.

  • How long do lymph nodes stay swollen?

    How long lymph nodes stay swollen depends on the cause. If you are fighting a respiratory illness, they can be swollen for a few weeks until the infection is cleared. See a healthcare provider if they continue to grow or do not go down after several weeks.

  • When should I worry about my lymph nodes?

    If you notice your lymph nodes are growing slowly and do not hurt, if they are red and tender, or feel hard, irregular, or fixed in place, you should see a medical professional. You will also want to be examined if you have a fever, night sweats, or unexplained weight loss.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Mariotti A. The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communicationFuture Sci OA. 2015;1(3):FSO23. doi:10.4155/fso.15.21

  3. National Institute of Mental Health. I'm so stressed out: Fact sheet.

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  6. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Understanding anxiety: Did you know?.

By Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN
Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist.