Can stress cause anemia? How it happens and how to treat it

Anemia can be caused by a variety of factors — including stress. Stress can have a huge impact on both our mental and physical health, and sometimes, chronic stress can manifest in the form of anemia.

Through effective stress management and medical treatment such as iron supplements, stress-caused anemia can be cured. Read on to see how stress can cause anemia, plus possible treatments for anemia and helpful stress management tips.

What Is Anemia?

Anemia is a blood disorder in which red blood cells are not able to carry oxygen sufficiently enough throughout the body. Some cases are treated easily by changing parts of one’s diet, while others are chronic. There are multiple types of anemia, and many of them are genetic. They are diagnosed through a blood test. 

Anemia can cause someone to feel lightheaded (especially after standing up), shortness of breath, low energy, weakness, difficulty concentrating, and headaches, among other symptoms.

Why Did I Suddenly Develop Anemia? Common Causes of Anemia

Usually, anemia is caused by:

  • Some form of bleeding where the body is unable to replace the necessary blood cells and hemoglobin (the body’s internal band-aids) at a sufficient rate
  • The body destroys red blood cells in cases where the body has an infection, bone marrow failure, or autoimmune conditions 
  • The body is unable to produce enough of red blood cells and hemoglobin. This may be caused by an insufficient diet that’s low in iron. Sometimes this happens during pregnancy, which is why iron supplements are encouraged.

Anemia is a relatively common condition, and though symptoms can range in severity, it’s important to check in with a doctor about your symptoms and decide on proper treatment, as it can become quite serious if it goes untreated.

Can Stress and Anxiety Cause Anemia?

Yes; stress and anxiety can both cause anemia due to the body using up magnesium during periods of high stress. Our bodies need magnesium for many things, including regulating our blood pressure, blood sugar, and moods. Thus, when we’re stressed, our bodies use magnesium to help us feel well, hence why anxiety can bring on a form of anemia and keep our red blood cells from doing their jobs as well as they did. 

Furthermore, we don’t always reach for healthy foods when we feel stressed, and anemia can be linked to diet. Thus, stress and anxiety don’t just impact our bodies’ ability to cope with the lack of magnesium in our red blood cells, but may also instigate a lack of proper nutrients or fuel to recover what was lost. 

Conversely, anemia can also impact one’s anxiety. Some of the symptoms of anemia look like anxiety and can also aggravate anxiety symptoms. So, when anemia gets treated, anxiety symptoms can also go away, though not always. 

What Symptoms of Anemia Are Associated With Stress?

Anemia has multiple symptoms and, as noted above, some of these symptoms are associated with anxiety. These include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Constipation
  • Chest pain

Other symptoms that are associated with stress are feelings of being tired, feeling weak, headaches, chest pain, and feeling lightheaded. Sometimes, skin issues can increase stress. With anemia, the skin may become pale or yellowish. If you notice some of the more serious symptoms, please consult with your doctor to get treatment for anemia or any other medical condition.

What Does Anemia Fatigue Feel Like?

Anemia fatigue is usually associated with an iron deficiency. People typically complain of feeling symptoms like exhaustion, as well as severe muscle weakness that may even block them from navigating their daily life.

Rest may be beneficial in general, but doesn’t fully help the person living with anemia feel rested. If your symptoms become this severe, contact your primary care doctor. They can help you understand what’s happening and give you treatment options to lessen the severity of your symptoms.

What Is the Quickest Way to Reverse Anemia? Nutritional Strategies to Combat Anemia

One of the easiest ways to reverse anemia is to take iron supplements, as well as eat foods that are rich in iron and vitamin C. Examples of such foods are: 

  • Shellfish
  • Pomegranates
  • Tofu
  • Legumes
  • Red meat
  • Spinach
  • Eggs
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Oranges
  • Dates
  • Figs

If you do have anemia, consider consulting with a dietician about which foods may or may not be appropriate for your diet.

How Long Does It Take to Recover From Anemia?

Depending on the type of anemia, it can take around 3-6 months to recover from anemia. Iron deficiency anemia can be resolved relatively quickly with iron supplements, though if the cause of anemia is genetic, a more long-term type of treatment will be necessary.

Effective Stress Management Techniques

There are multiple ways to help a person regulate their stress. Here are a few common strategies:

  • Physical exercise (weight lifting, yoga, going for a walk, gardening)
  • Indulging the senses in a healthy activity, such as smelling some tea, smelling flowers, hand soap, or putting lotion on your body
  • Grounding techniques (54321 technique, 333 rule)
  • Using ice and/or frozen items on the skin
  • Pet your cat/dog
  • Draw or color for at least 15 minutes
  • Listen to music you find relaxing
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Create some calming triggers (things that make you feel calm or happy when you see or hear them)
  • Have a set bedtime routine or sleep schedule 

If your anemia is tied to anxiety or stress, these strategies could you decrease both your stress and anemia symptoms. However, it would also be beneficial to speak to a mental health professional as well as a primary care doctor about your symptoms. A counselor or therapist can help you with your anxiety in the long term, but as anemia is also a medical condition, it’s important to also seek medical care and treatment in order to stay ahead of your anemia and live a healthy life.

Table of contents

What Is Anemia?

Can Stress and Anxiety Cause Anemia?

What Symptoms of Anemia Are Associated With Stress?

What Does Anemia Fatigue Feel Like?

What Is the Quickest Way to Reverse Anemia? Nutritional Strategies to Combat Anemia

Effective Stress Management Techniques

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  • Stults‐Kolehmainen, M., & Sinha, R. (2013). The effects of stress on physical activity and exercise. Sports Medicine, 44(1), 81–121.

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