Telomeres protect the chromosome ends from degradation and play crucial roles in cellular aging and disease. Recent studies have additionally found a correlation between psychological stress, telomere length, and health outcome in humans. However, studies have not yet explored the causal relationship between stress and telomere length, or the molecular mechanisms underlying that relationship. Using yeast as a model organism, we show that stresses may have very different outcomes: alcohol and acetic acid elongate telomeres, whereas caffeine and high temperatures shorten telomeres. Additional treatments, such as oxidative stress, show no effect. By combining genome-wide expression measurements with a systematic genetic screen, we identify the Rap1/Rif1 pathway as the central mediator of the telomeric response to environmental signals. These results demonstrate that telomere length can be manipulated, and that a carefully regulated homeostasis may become markedly deregulated in opposing directions in response to different environmental cues.