What are the Effects of Stress on the Body?

Immediate and long term effects of stress.

Effects of Stress - the Hormonal Cascade

As soon as your mind registers and interprets an event as stressful, a cascade of hormones is released into the blood stream. Some of the effects that these hormones have on your body are:

  • Raise the core body temperature
  • Speed up the heart
  • Increase fats in the blood
  • Raise blood sugar
  • Increase cholesterol in the blood
  • Reduce white blood cell count
  • Deplete protein storage
  • Decrease production of lymphocytes

Everyone experiences stress. It is a natural part of life. Our bodies have a built mechanism to respond to stress. Regardless of the source of the stress, your body goes through the same response to stress that primitive people experienced when they faced physical threats in their lives.

This response to stress is called General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) - a term coined by Hans Selye, the father of stress research. The GAS has three phases:

  1. Alarm - also known as the "fight or flight" response, autonomic nervous system arousal occurs along with a surge of adrenaline. During this stage a variety of physiological changes occur.

    The brain triggers a response from the autonomic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that you cannot consciously control). All body systems mobilize and your body prepares to expand the energy needed to either confront or flee from the stressor.

  2. Resistance - the next stage reflects the body's attempt to reestablish internal homeostasis. This is the stage when coping and adaptation occurs. The body cannot sustain the high level of energy as in the alarm stage, so it attempts to redirect the stress response into a more manageable level. This is crucial, because unless the stress is resolved, the body's defense mechanisms will weaken.

  3. Recovery or Exhaustion - in this stage, your body has either recovered and returned to the homeostasis that existed before the stressful event; or your body becomes exhausted and the effects of high cortisol and other hormones begin to have negative effects on health.
effects of stress

In extreme, or chronic cases of stress, exhaustion can become so prominent that basic physiological function weakens and ultimately too much stress can lead to death.

Because of our increasingly complicated lives, we are experiencing stress more often and our ability to recover is often diminishing. This leads to long term effects of stress on your body and effects on your mind and your emotions - the psychological effects of stress.

So, what can you do about this? How can you reduce the effects of stress? There are a number of things you can do.

Related articles:

Stress and your Health
The Impact of Stress on your Brain
Physiological Effects


Return from Effects of Stress to Stress Relief Tools


Words of Wisdom

The time to relax is when you don't have time for it.
~Sydney J. Harris

Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.
~Chinese Proverb

There cannot be a stressful crisis next week. My schedule is already full.
~Henry Kissinger

Humor, a great stress reliever!
Laugh, be happy and have less stress!
~Catherine Pulsifer

Stress is like spice - in the right proportion it enhances the flavor of a dish. Too little produces a bland, dull meal; too much may choke you.
~Donald Tubesing




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