The Phenomena of Stress and its Effects on the Body

Contributor:  Houda Ajrouche

Stress. We’ve all had it to some degree. The word, in itself, could be enough to remind you of some of the few times that you have been stressed. But what exactly is it? Stress is defined as the body’s response to any external or internal stimulus. It can be something that may go on for a long time or something that is shorter in length. A lot of the stressors that we are exposed to can be harmless, and can include studying for an exam or trying to plan an event. Although this is the case, stressors can also serve to be harmful if you don’t know how to successfully cope with them; unsuccessful coping can lead to a potential burnout and the body’s need to adapt to the stressor, which is known as General Adaptation Syndrome.

When a person is exposed to a stressful situation, the brain interprets this stimulus where it tells the body to activate a response. Here, the sympathetic nervous system is activated allowing for an activation of the adrenal glands to pump adrenaline, or cortisol into the bloodstream. From there, heart rate goes up, breathing quickens, pupils dilate, and blood pressure increases (Carpenter and Huffman 71). This is because, the body is preparing itself for a “fight or flight” response, where the body is at an increased state of awareness. This is the body’s way of overcoming a stressful situation. When the stressful situation is finally beaten, the body is able to successfully restore itself to its normal function and state, which is known as Homeostasis.

Although this is the case, there are some situations where the body is exposed to chronic stress, and the body responds by activating something known as General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). Described by the physician, Hans Selye in 1936, General Adaption Syndrome is described as “a generalized physiological reaction to stress”, and is composed of three parts known as the Alarm phase, Resistance phase, and Exhaustion phase (Carpenter and Huffman 69). This response results in the body’s need to adapt to the stimulus that it is facing. The Alarm stage usually takes place immediately after being exposed to the stress, where the body prepares itself for the “fight-or-flight” response (Carpenter and Huffman 69). Here, the body’s resistance to the stimulus is decreased. After being continually exposed to this stress, the Resistance Phase comes in. In this stage, the body’s resistance increases and the body attempts to adapt itself to the stressor that it is exposed to; the body, though, can only take so much. As time progresses, the final stage comes into play and it is known as the Exhaustion Phase. Here, the body’s resistance begins to decrease gradually or suddenly. This is because the body’s stress response is being overused, causing a state of exhaustion. This phase, usually results in decreased immunity due to the prolonged stress, which may leave an individual susceptible sickness and damage to the body. In all, prolonged stress can lead to burnout, which is characterized by “physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion” (Carpenter and Huffman 68).

So now you know how stress can affect the body, but this isn’t the end of the road. After learning how stress influences the body, it is then important to learn how to manage the stress before it manages you. Controlling and minimizing one’s exposure to stress, will decrease chances of facing exhaustion and burnout. So, what can you do to ensure that you are successfully managing the stress that comes your way? Well, the first step is to identify what is causing you the stress. When you realize what is causing you some stress, try to come up with a possible solution that will help in decreasing the stress you are facing. After identifying the stressors, come up with possible solutions to decrease that stress; this can include having an activity for yourself that will allow you to “get away” from that stress for a moment. The stress relievers can range from just doodling something random in a moment of stress, to simply taking a walk outside after having a stressful day, which will allow for a cool down. In all, coping and minimizing stress will allow for better chances of handling the stress before it handles you.


Carpenter, Siri, and Karen Huffman. Visualizing Psychology. 3rd ed. N.p.: Wiley         Visualizing, 2013. Print.

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