Stress and Herpes Outbreaks: What's the Link? - Step To Health
 

Stress and Herpes Outbreaks: What's the Link?

We've known about the link between stress and herpes outbreaks for decades. Find out what the connection is and what you can do about it.
Stress and Herpes Outbreaks: What's the Link?

Last update: 03 December, 2021

The herpes simplex virus causes one of the most common infections in humans. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 67% of the population suffers from herpes simplex type 1 and 13% from herpes simplex type 2. In many cases it’s a latent condition, although there can be a link between stress and herpes outbreaks.

Stress is a conditioner for many diseases. We all experience certain amounts of stress in our day-to-day lives, but when we do so in high doses, complications arise. Many patients diagnosed with herpes begin to develop symptoms after stressful episodes. Let’s look at the relationship between the two conditions.

Short-term stress and herpes outbreaks

El herpes por estrés es causado por efectos hormonales
The influence of hormones during an episode of stress can promote herpes outbreaks.

The first thing you need to know is that stress is the result of a series of changes that occur in your body to adapt or respond to demanding situations. It’s regulated by hormones, of which cortisol is one of the most important. It’s a natural process that helps you overcome obstacles and solve problems.

This is why we all manifest a small dose of stress in the short term. Even in small doses, stress has an impact on your body, both physically and psychologically. For example, researchers have known for a couple of decades that stress coerces the functioning of the immune system.

This causes, among many other things, slower healing, a tendency to get infections, reduced effectiveness of vaccines, and, of course, reactivation of stress herpes. Keep in mind at this point that herpes is a disease that has no cure, and manifests itself through outbreaks.

A patient can have a couple of outbreaks per year, or go for several years without showing a single symptom. Then, exacerbations worsen when they are preceded by episodes of short-term stress. They do this because the immune system is weakened and the ever-present virus resurfaces.

Long-term stress and herpes outbreaks

While you can develop herpes from short-term stress, the truth is that it’s more common for the virus to reactivate in the face of long-term stress. That is, after you’ve experienced several days or weeks of stress.

Don’t leave without reading: How to Possibly Prevent Herpes Labialis

This is what some studies and research, say, and they claim that long-term stressful episodes are a good predictor of a herpes outbreak. The answer to this is very simple: chronic stress has a major impact on all the processes that regulate your body’s homeostasis.

That said, what’s the process behind chronic stress herpes? There are many hypotheses, and it’s even an open question among specialists. Some researchers point out that stress disrupts the biochemical communication between the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems.

This results in a blockage of the processes of sending and exchanging messengers, leading to alterations in natural homeostasis. According to some studies, this disruption is carried out through molecules such as cytokines, glucocorticoids, and catecholamines. All of these disrupt the communication process and leave the patient’s immune system susceptible.

What can you do to prevent herpes outbreaks due to stress?

Both short-term stress and chronic stress weaken your immune system to a greater or lesser extent. This results in the reactivation of the herpes simplex virus. To prevent this, you need to reduce the amount of stress in your day-to-day life.

There are many things you can do about it. Most of them are small changes in your lifestyle, as well as making healthy habits. Here are some general ideas from Harvard Health and Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Work on your breathing

Something as simple as taking a deep breath can help you manage a stressful episode. Taking long, slow, deep breaths will allow you to relax, and thus prevent emotions from overflowing inside you. If you want to try some breathing exercises, we recommend these ones.

Plan freeing activities

Your life can’t be mediated only by study, work, family, or adult responsibilities. You must leave space for activities that help you to eliminate worries. Biking, hiking, gardening, walking, going to the movies, and jogging are just a few examples.

Identify when to rest

Here’s an essential tip to avoid herpes caused by chronic stress. You must know how to identify when it’s time to rest, so that you give yourself space to recover energy and reorder your mind. You can try to do activities in cycles, so that you include breaks in between to avoid physical and mental fatigue that inevitably evolve into stress.

Practice meditation

A person meditating.
Trying to relax is very important in order to prevent stress and diseases derived from it.

When you think of avoiding stress, the first thing that comes to mind is meditation. Indeed, this is one of the best habits to keep stress out of your life, one that also benefits you in many ways. We especially suggest you try mindfulness meditation for stress.

Try guided imagery

Another technique to avoid stress herpes is to practice guided imagery. This consists of imagining situations in your mind that evoke a certain degree of relaxation, which allows you to disconnect for a moment from the problems that accuse you in reality.

Don’t neglect your social relationships

You can also try to strengthen your social relationships. Researchers have found a link between stress, loneliness, and reactivation of the herpes simplex virus, so don’t neglect the times you spend with friends, family, or colleagues.

In any case, the most important thing to understand is that stress can reactivate your herpes outbreaks. Knowing this will encourage you to change your lifestyle to reduce the onset of symptoms. Anything you can do in your life to reduce your stress or anxiety levels is welcome.

It might interest you...
Oral Herpes: Symptoms and Treatment
Step To Health
Read it in Step To Health
Oral Herpes: Symptoms and Treatment

Oral herpes is often called "fever blisters" or "cold sores" and is easily spread through contact like kissing or sharing utensils.



  • Cohen F, Kemeny ME, Kearney KA, Zegans LS, Neuhaus JM, Conant MA. Persistent stress as a predictor of genital herpes recurrence. Arch Intern Med. 1999 Nov 8;159(20):2430-6.
  • Godbout JP, Glaser R. Stress-induced immune dysregulation: implications for wound healing, infectious disease and cancer. J Neuroimmune Pharmacol. 2006 Dec;1(4):421-7.
  • Glaser R, Kiecolt-Glaser JK. Chronic stress modulates the virus-specific immune response to latent herpes simplex virus type 1. Ann Behav Med. 1997 Spring;19(2):78-82.
  • Glaser R, Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Speicher CE, Holliday JE. Stress, loneliness, and changes in herpesvirus latency. J Behav Med. 1985 Sep;8(3):249-60.
  • Padgett DA, Sheridan JF, Dorne J, Berntson GG, Candelora J, Glaser R. Social stress and the reactivation of latent herpes simplex virus type 1. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1998 Jun 9;95(12):7231-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.95.12.7231. Erratum in: Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 1998 Sep 29;95(20):12070.
  • Sainz B, Loutsch JM, Marquart ME, Hill JM. Stress-associated immunomodulation and herpes simplex virus infections. Med Hypotheses. 2001 Mar;56(3):348-56.