Does Stress Have Any Physical Effects?

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Does Stress Have Any Physical Effects?

Stress works much like a reflex after which the nervous system reacts by secreting hormones that naturally boost. To cope with stressful situations, additional energy is needed.

The effects of stress and anxiety can be multiple and the consequences are sometimes devastating. In this article, we detail the different types of stress and the symptoms we can associate:

  • Acute stress
  • Chronic stress
  • The physical reaction
  • The psychological impact


As a result of a stressful situation where you have to fight or flee, the body reacts biologically in 2 steps.
The answer is controlled by the SNA (Autonomic Nervous System) which triggers the production of hormones intended to provide a short-term response, regardless of any voluntary control.

1st time: the shock

  • the blood sugar level collapses;
  • the muscular tone also collapses;
  • the mind becomes confused;
  • physical manifestations appear.

2nd time: the reaction

When it perceives a threat, the organization instantly activates the hypthalamus , a structure of the limbic brain that ensures homeostasis, that is, the maintenance of biological constants in equilibrium ( blood pressure , heart rate and respiratory). On the one hand, the stress response mobilizes the sympathetic branch and thus the adrenal medulla which immediately releases catecholamines (adrenaline) or “stress hormones”. It is called the stress axis, which is triggered by two kinds of stimuli that directly alert the hypotalamus:

  • cognitive stimuli , such as physical stimuli (pain, cold, noise), and emotions perceived by sense organs and the nervous system;
  • non-cognitive stimuli such as viruses and bacteria recognized by the immune system .

With this adrenaline boost, the body is able to multiply your mental and physical strengths . Nevertheless, it is a costly operating regime in which the energy reserves that can be mobilized are lacking rapidly. The prolongation of the reaction involves the support of the corticotropic axis (hypotalamus-pituitary-adrenal cortex) which increases the secretion of cortisol.
In these conditions, and if the threat has disappeared, the situation is under control, everything returns to normal under the soothing effect of cortisol .


If it is no longer a predator but a stress that persists , which regularly returns to the charge, the activation of the body tends to continue. It secretes hormones such as cortisol, dopamine, serotonin, endorphin. However, the effects of the first, beneficial in acute stress, are harmful when the stress becomes chronic . Indeed, cortisol is responsible for an increase in the degradation of proteins; to produce energy substrates, the body that has exhausted its reserves of sugars and lipids, attacks its own structures. This production of energy components results in:

  • an increase in glucose, triglycerides and blood cholesterol, leading to cardiovascular disease;
  • an effect on immune abilities.

To mitigate the negative effects of excessive secretionand prolonged cortisol, the body has a regulatory mechanism: the hippocampus, structure of the temporal lobe of the brain. While under the effect of acute stress, the hippocampus slows the hypothalamus, the secretion of CRH (Corticotropin Releasing Hormone *) then decreases, which reduces that of cortisol, toxic for him. In chronic stress, he loses his ability to curb the hypotalamus. Activation of the corticotropic axis tends to become permanent. The cortisol remains high, it then manifests its anxiety and depressant power and causes a degradation of memory and learning abilities. You reach what the specialists call “the phase of exhaustion”; the reactions of your SNA ** are no longer adapted to the demands of the environment.

* CRH (Corticotropin Releasing Hormone) 
CRH or corticotropin-releasing hormone is a hormone produced by the hypothalamus and acting in the pituitary gland. CRH will stimulate the release of ACTH by the pituitary that will, in turn, stimulate the production of glucocorticoids (cortisol) in the adrenal glands.


The physical face of acute stress

During a period of intense stress , physical symptoms may appear: pallor, tremors, heavy sweat, malaise, lump in the throat, tightness in the chest, knot in the stomach, digestive spasms, cold extremities.

After stress , it is common to be exhausted both physically and psychically. The gestures are slow and heavy, the voice is altered, a feeling of euphoric relief appears at the same time as a loss of the capacities of evaluation and memorization. This is why we must always avoid, after overcoming a gravedanger, to relax completely: it is the phenomenon of overaccident.

Body and minds intimately linked

As a result of a traumatic event or a repetition of failures , stress sets in and threatens the balance of the body. Most often, the effects of prolonged stressbegin to be felt on the psyche, and physical manifestations appear: heart palpitations, pain and tension (in the jaws, neck or back), asthenia (state of general fatigue), difficulty falling asleep , awakenings at night, vertigo, dyspnea (difficulty breathing), nausea, bloating.

The harmful effects of stress on the physical

The hormonal storm triggered by stress is not harmful to the body if the sit uation is regularized , either because the stressors have disappeared, or because the person concerned has to cope with it. On the other hand, if the tension persists, the stress hormones are likely to alter the physical health of the individual . The nervous system, by being solicited, reacts excessively and exhausts the natural reserves of the body.


The resources of the mind

Biological mechanisms alone are not enough to handle a stressful event . Indeed, the body provides substances to move quickly to action or to hold the shock. It is then necessary to mobilize psychic resources. The mind governs motivation, fighting spirit, self-control and self-confidence.

The psyche in the face of different stress

During acute stress , we instantly raise our level of alertness and focus our attention on the danger. All the senses are on alert. Psychic phenomena may appear :
– a feeling of unreality of what has just happened;
– a painful psychic tension with lucid awareness of the lived situation.

In contrast, in chronic stress, the following psychological disorders may disturb you : rumination of daily worries, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, empty headache, anxiety, hyperemotivity, agitation, feverishness, inhibition, inability to react to events , feelings of blockage of any initiative.

The harmful effects of stress on the psyche

After a stress, it is said that the emotion falls. There is then loss of any emotional control (possible crying, impulses …). It is impossible to mobilize to act. If the stress persists again and no one is in support a loss of self-confidence can support.

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