Stress and the Body

Many people think of stress as outside forces or experiences. In actuality, stress is the body’s way of reacting to some type of change that calls for acknowledgement or correction.

The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental and emotional responses. The human body can adequately experience stress and react to it. Stress can be a positive thing, however too much stress or prolonged stress has negative effects on the body.

Acute stress is the bodys reaction to an immediate threat, whether it be real or perceived. This reaction is often referred to as the fight or flight response. Stressors such as physical or emotional trauma, or environmental factors such as noise, light and crowds can cause acute stress.

These and other stressors activate the part of the brain called the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis. This triggers the production and release of steroid hormones, particularly the primary stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol increases blood pressure so the body is prepared to confront or flee a threat due to the increased blood flow to the outer extremities.


The hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis also activates the release of certain neurotransmitters called catecholamines, adrenaline in particular to aid in the response. If stress continues without any relief the body can and will react in a negative way. This distress may lead to symptoms such as headache, upset stomach, chest pain, and problems sleeping.

Chronic Stress

Stress may not only contribute to existing symptoms or diseases but can possibly cause them. This type of stress that continues without any relief is called chronic stress. While the release of certain hormones is helpful to the body on a short-term basis, it is important for the levels to return to normal after the perceived threat or stress has abated to restore homeostasis.

The stress hormone Cortisol increases blood pressure, blood sugar and is an immunosuppressive, short term these can be helpful but over a period of time can cause physical harm. Increased levels of cortisol affect the immune, digestive and nervous system. The change in neurotransmitters and hormones also affects heart function, hormone balance and brain activity.


Symptoms of chronic stress are visible after a period of time. They are not always recognized as symptoms of stress though, since stress manifests itself in many different ways and varies from person to person. Some of the most common symptoms of stress include general aches and pains, headaches, muscle ache, indigestion, changes in eating or sleeping habits, fatigue, and sexual difficulties.

Many people often try to combat these symptoms or control their stress by smoking, drinking, or eating unhealthy foods causing further damage to the body. All of these factors may cause increased susceptibility to illness and infection. The onset of many conditions and diseases including, but not limited to depression, insomnia, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, ulcers and even some types of cancers have been linked to stress. There is evidence to suggest that somewhere between 70-90% of all doctor visits are due to stress related ailments or stress related complaints.