Your Body and the Physiological Effects of Stress

Physiological effects of stress can be best understood in terms of your body's stress response. In an ideal state, the body is in a state of internal homeostasis, a physiological state when all systems function smoothly and are in balance.

physiological effects of stress

As soon as you are faced with danger (real or imagined), your body goes through a complex physiological response. The physiological effects of stress are associated with the brain and nervous system, as well as your endocrine system.

Your nervous system and endocrine system are interconnected by a hypothalamus, a structure located in the brain, directly above the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland plays a major role in regulating the endocrine system.

When you are confronted with stress, the hypothalamus releases a chemical messenger into the blood flowing directly to the pituitary gland. This chemical messenger stimulates the pituitary gland to produce adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).

ACTH is then released into the blood stream, where it reaches the adrenal glands. ACTH stimulates the outer layer (cortex) of adrenal glands to produce chemicals called corticoids. And corticoids help the body to acquire energy from energy stores in the body.

The hypothalamus also activates the inner core (medulla) of the adrenal gland, through the sympathetic nervous system (a branch of the body's autonomic nervous system). This results in the production of epinephrine (known as adrenalin). It is epinephrine which causes most of the physiological changes that occur in the body to produce fast, short term high energy levels required in the presence of stressor.

With all these hormones flowing through your blood stream, every system in your body braces for action.

The following physiological effects of stress occur:

  • The brain releases endorphins to relieve pain

  • Heart rate increases and heart increases its strength of contraction to pump more blood
  • Blood pressure rises

  • Digestion slows so the much needed blood may be diverted to muscles

  • Salivation and mucous secretion decreases - the result is a "cotton mouth" feeling
  • Pupils dilate so that you have a more sensitive vision

  • All of your senses - sight, hearing, smell, and taste - become more acute, ready to identify any threats

  • Sweating increases to flush waste and to cool down the body

  • Blood clotting increases to prevent bleeding to death during physical threat

  • Sugars and fats are released into the blood stream to supply fuel

  • Adrenaline and other hormones are released into the bloodstream to provide energy

  • Muscle tension increases to prepare for action in the shortens time

  • Bronchi dilate, allowing for more air into the lungs

  • Breathing gets shallow and faster to supply more oxygen to the muscles and body tissue

This reaction is pure stress and is a result of a cascade of hormones that starts as soon as your brain realizes that a demand is being made on your body.

These physiological effects of stress are meant to be short term. Once the danger passes, the body should return to its state of homeostasis, the state of internal equilibrium when all the body systems function smoothly and are balanced.

Learn more about physiological effects of stress by reading about long term effects of stress.

Related articles:

Effects of Stress on Health
What is Stress
Causes of Stress
Symptoms of Stress
Effects of Stress on Health
Effects of Stress on the Brain
Psychological Effects of Stress
Positive Effects of Stress
Physical Effects of Stress





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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




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