How Does Stress Affect the body? Stress Response

How Does Stress Affect The Body

Stress is everywhere. And sometimes a little stress is not that bad either and could actually be beneficial for your productivity. However, excessive stress can wear you down and make you sick. And chronic stress can wreak havoc on your body. 

This article will tell you what stress response is and how stress affects the body. But first, we need to know what stress response is.

What is Stress Response

Stress is itself a response in your body when it doesn’t know how to cope with the situations it is facing at the moment. And stress response is what the body and mind undergo during this period.

Whenever you face any life-threatening situation or any kind of tough situation where you can’t find a way out, your body shows a combination of responses; both physiological and psychological. This combination of responses is known as the “fight or flight” response. It is basically a survival mechanism adapted to mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations.

Effects of Stress Response

Suppose you’re facing a deadline at your work or in a persistent worry about losing the only job you have, the struggle of taking care of your family. Such threats are an everyday phenomenon. But that doesn’t mean they’re small.

Our bodies are hardwired to react in a life-threatening situation to guard us against any attacker. Although such threats have become rare today, stress, on the other hand, has increased tenfold. Let’s see how your body starts to process stress the second it identifies it.

Signal to the Brain

Any stress response starts in the brain first. The moment you confront a stressful situation, your brain sends the information to the area where emotion is processed, the amygdala. The amygdala sends the distress signal to your hypothalamus after processing the images and sounds. 

The hypothalamus is like the command center of your body and through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, it sends signals to the autonomic nerves and the adrenal glands. These glands are located atop the kidneys and they release a chemical or hormone known as adrenaline along with another called cortisol.


The adrenaline pumped into your bloodstream brings several physiological changes. It increases your heart rate and your heart starts to pound very fast. This in turn pushes a lot of blood to the muscles and other vital organs. 

You start to breathe more rapidly as the smallest airways in the lungs open wide. Each breath takes in a lot of oxygen. This extra oxygen alerts your brain even more. Your hearing, sight, sense of smell, and touch increase manyfold.


Cortisol increases the glucose level in your bloodstream and also increases the tissue repair process.  Additionally, cortisol also curbs other functions in the body which would be non-essential during such fight or flight situations. For example, your digestive systems are suppressed, and your reproductive and growth process comes to a halt. 

Fats from temporary storage start to act as the energy source. As a result of all of these combined, you get an extensive surge of energy. 

Musculoskeletal system

As we stated earlier, when you’re under a lot of stress or in a fight or flight-type situation, a lot of blood is pumped into your muscles. At the same time, your muscle tenses up as a reflex to guard against injury or pain. 

This tensing of muscle isn’t permanent. As soon as the stress is released, your muscles get relaxed. However, chronic stress can cause muscles to be in a constant state of tension due to guardedness. 

Long-time stress triggers other muscle reactions in the body. For example, headaches or even migraine are known to be associated with chronic tensing of muscles in the neck, head, and shoulder area. Besides, chronic stress can also cause lower back pain. This is especially common due to job stress.

Gastrointestinal system

Ever experienced butterflies in the stomach? This is a stress response. Stress affects the brain to gut communication as stated earlier. Besides the suppression of the digestive system, stress can influence the bacteria inside the gut which might later increase the risk of gut diseases or dysfunction.

As a result, you might experience irritable bowel syndrome. Besides, bowel inflammation is also another common phenomenon.

Respiratory system

A high amount of stress increases your breathing. You might experience rapid breathing and shortness of breath at the same time. This is because stress can constrict the airway between your lungs and nose. This doesn’t create a problem if you don’t have any prior respiratory diseases.

However, diseases such as asthma or COPD like bronchitis, etc. can be affected badly due to stress. Some researchers have shown that acute stress triggers asthma and panic attacks.

Cardiovascular system

Acute stress also tends to increase the blood flow in the system due to heart dilation. Constant stress over a prolonged period of time can cause heart problems. The consistent ongoing increase in heart rate can take a toll on your body. Long-term stress also increases the chance of heart attack, stroke, or hypertension.

Don’t let stress control your body

The human body is well equipped to handle stress on a regular basis. But that has to be on a small dose. But constant stress can have an adverse effect on both your mind and body. In addition to the effects mentioned earlier, people also experience sleep problems, weight gain, memory impairment, digestive problems, etc. 

Everyone reacts to stress in their own way. Your way of reacting to a potentially stressful situation is different from anyone else’s. So, try to know your body and take measures. The first step is to know the symptoms to stress. Once you know them, try to control them. This is a good way to cope with stress.