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Stress and Cold Sores

There are many things that can trigger cold sores. Some causes are environmental, like cold weather, while others are harder to pinpoint, like stress and fatigue. Below, we’ll discuss the connection between stress and cold sores and walk you through some solutions for managing your stress levels. 

Can Stress Cause Cold Sores?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. As if we needed something else to stress over! Alongside internal factors like anxiety, hormonal changes, and exhaustion, stress is a common condition that can trigger the development of cold sore symptoms. 1 Because prolonged stress levels can weaken the immune system 2 and shifts in immune function can trigger the dormant cold sore virus, you can experience a cold sore outbreak even without coming into physical contact with bodily fluids. 3 What’s more, those who have weakened immune systems are also more susceptible to complications from the cold sore virus.4

Stress and How It Affects Your Health

When it comes to general health, the effects of stress on the body go far beyond cold sores. Some other common physical symptoms of stress include headaches, upset stomach, fatigue, chest pain, changes in sex drive, trouble sleeping, and muscle pain.In the long term, high stress levels that are not properly addressed can lead to more serious medical issues including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. 6 Everyone’s stress manifests in different ways, so learning how to recognize signs of stress in your own body is the first step towards figuring out how to manage it.

Tips for Managing Stress

Whether your stress is being caused by a specific life event such as the death of a loved one or you’re simply overworked and overwhelmed by the stress of your everyday life, having a few tips for managing your mental health can be helpful.

1. Getting Enough Sleep

Making time to get enough shut-eye every night is essential for managing stress as well as overall health. Sleep is when the body repairs itself, 7 so make sure you’re not doom-scrolling in bed at 3am when you should be lost in dreamland. Another tip for catching a few extras zzz’s? Take a 20- or 30-minute power nap on days that you feel stressed out and defeated.

2. Gentle Stretching

Try out some gentle stretching exercises for tension relief in your body. 8 No need to go full downward-facing dog, even a few simple shoulder rolls can help relieve stress. Reach your hands towards the ceiling for a full body stretch, gently roll your head in a circle, or move in whatever way compels you to stretch out some of your stressful feelings.

3. Get Active

If you enjoyed the stretching but want to do something more high-intensity, exercise is also a great way to help relieve stress. Working out can help relieve energy and tension and can be a welcome outlet when you’re stressed. Plus, when you exercise, your brain releases chemicals called endorphins which make you feel good 9—another added benefit!

4. Take a Deep Breath

We’ve all probably heard this common piece of advice when we’re feeling stressed out, “Take a deep breath!” And not for nothing—practicing deep, relaxed breathing can, in fact, help with stress management. Slowly inhaling and exhaling allows your body to intake enough oxygen and activate its relaxation response. 10 Plus, taking a few moments to breathe forces you to slow down and gives you space to clear your head.

5. Me Time

Everyone has busy lives and between work, family, and other obligations, it’s easy to spiral into being stressed out and overwhelmed. Make sure that you’re finding time to do the things you love, whether that’s making music, reading a book, or trying out a new recipe. Making time for hobbies is an important part of a balanced lifestyle and can help you manage your stress symptoms. 11

6. Seek Professional Help

Managing stress can be difficult and sometimes doing it on your own is just not feasible. If you’ve tried some at-home stress relief techniques but your stress (and the accompanying cold sores) are not going away, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider. They can refer you to a professional counselor or therapist, who can help get to the root of your stress and work with you to provide tools for coping with it. 12

As discussed above, stress can lead to more serious health conditions, so it’s important to get your stress levels under control. No one deserves to feel stressed out all the time or experience stress-related cold sores, and there are plenty of resources available to ensure that you don’t have to.

We hope this article has helped you understand the connection between cold sores and stress. For more tips on understanding your cold sore triggers and how to manage them, check out more Abreva articles on lip health.


1. Cold sores. Harvard Health Publishing. Accessed 1/7/2021. Referenced text indicated on page 1 in source PDF.

2. Genital herpes - self-care. MedlinePlus. Accessed 1/7/2021. Referenced text indicated on page 2 in source PDF.

3-4. Cold sore – Symptoms & Causes. Mayo Clinic. Accessed 1/7/2021. Referenced text indicated on page 2 in source PDF.

5-6. Stress management. Mayo Clinic. Accessed 1/7/2021. Referenced text indicated on page 1 in source PDF.

7-10. Managing Daily Stress. Accessed 1/8/2021. Referenced text indicated on page 2 in source PDF.

11-12. Stress management. Mayo Clinic. Accessed 1/7/2021. Referenced text indicated on pages 1 and 2 in source PDF.