EPR Biofeedback Alberta

Effects of Stress

The "Stress Response"

Our stress response is a non-specific set of mental and physiological adjustments that our bodies make automatically to maintain stability or homeostasis in response to stressors.  Stressors are factors that threaten this equilibrium. 

Our bodies are constantly adjusting to our surroundings, and the degree of actual or perceived danger will affect the degree of our response. 

When a physical or mental event threatens this equilibrium, we react to it. This process is referred to as the "Fight or Flight Response."  We prepare for physical action in order to confront or flee a threat, like a predator.  Of course, the same response can be triggered to varying degrees by skipping a meal, narrowly avoiding an accident, or having an argument.

Our stress response is considered positive when it is a natural reaction to challenge or danger.  However, when we feel out of control or under intense pressure for extended periods, we may experience physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms that are considered negative.  It is this unmanaged stress that is directly related to nearly all disease.

The stress response is activated by our autonomic nervous system, which handles all unconscious activities in stress and relaxation states.

What Happens?

Typically, apart from mentally-generated stress, our sensory system is the first to sense a threat or "stressful situation."  The response is reflexive.  The hypothalamus, which is a central neural processing area of the lower brain, perceives incoming information from the sensory system and immediately responds with a series of neurological and hormonal signals to the brain and pituitary gland. 

These signals change our emotional and cognitive state and initiate a cascade of hormonal changes that are responsible for the functional effects of stress.

Functional Effects Stress

  • Reduced circulation in cerebral cortex, which reduces thinking to "lower brain" survival instincts.  This results in more impulsive action, like "fight or flight."
  • Diversion of the blood from less vital to more vital organs and to muscles.  This focuses resources and energy on short-term survival functions.
  • Reduction in surface and peripheral circulation.  This would reduce bleeding in the case of trauma, and it is responsible for the phenomenon of "cold and clammy" hands and feet.
  • Digestion, intestional motility, and the immune system are inhibited.
  • Muscles can see up to 1000% more blood flow.
  • Increase in the heart rate and blood pressure to supply more blood quickly to "fight or flee."
  • Increase in the respiratory rate and dilation of bronchial tubes to get more oxygen from the air.
  • Breakdown of glycogen stores in liver and muscle to provide more glucose (energy) to the muscles.
  • Formation of more glucose from proteins and fat stores.  Mobilization of immediate energy.

Physical Symptoms of Stress

This is a list of possible symptoms caused by stress.  Physical symptoms can sometimes mask symptoms of other diseases, so it is important to find out if they are stress-related, or not, by speaking with a health professional. 

  • Chest Pain or Palpitations
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Migraine - Frequent Headaches and tension headaches
  • Indigestion - (very common physical symptom of stress)
  • Nausea
  • Heartburn
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Constipation or Diarrhea
  • Chronic cough
  • Flatulence or excessive wind.
  • Stomach cramps, irritable bowel
  • Tremor and shaking and / or nervous twitches & tapping
  • Muscle tension, cramps
  • Slow-healing wounds, infections
  • Jaw Pain
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Increased cholesterol
  • More frequent flu's and cols
  • Hair Loss
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Skin problems (eczema, hives, itching, psoriasis)
  • Increased sweating
  • Baldness or increased hair loss
  • Poor circulation with cold fingers and toes.
  • Infertility
  • Menstrual irregularity
  • Premature ejaculation or Impotence
  • More frequent asthma attacks or shortness of breath
  • Shoulder, Neck, or Back Pain
  • Periodontal disease


Emotional Symptoms of Stress

  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Feeling out of control
  • Fear
  • Phobias
  • Excessive anger
  • Frustration
  • Memory problems
  • Lack of concentration
  • Trouble thinking clearly
  • Substance abuse
  • Overreactions

Behavioral Symptoms of Stress

The antisocial behavior displayed in stressful situations can cause the rapid deterioration of relationships with family, friends, co-workers, or even strangers. A person under stress may manifest signs such as:

  • Increased arguments
  • Conflict with family, co-workers
  • Excessive and sustained irritability with other people
  • Obesity and Over-eating
  • Decreased work or athletic performance
  • Withdrawal from responsibilities
  • Isolation from social activities
  • Lack of motivation
  • Permanently tired even after sleep (very common)
  • Increased or excessive drinking of alcohol
  • Loss of appetite or anorexia
  • Increased smoking
  • Increased coffee consumption
  • Carelessness
  • Substance Abuse
  • Indecisiveness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Increased and suppressed angerLoss of your sense of humor
  • Road rage
  • Domestic, workplace violence
  • Overreactions
  • Paranoia
  • Not be able to cope with life, feeling out of control
  • Frequent job changes
  • Excessive emotion & crying at small irritations
  • Lack of interest in anything other than work
  • Decreased sex drive / libido

Severe stress reactions that persist for long periods of time and recur without warning after a traumatic event or even after an intense experience such as an accident, hospitalization, or loss, may become a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) requiring professional assistance to overcome.

Stress as a Cause of Disease and Death

Acute stress reactions have been shown to increase accidents and completed suicides, which are among the top causes of death in Canada.  However, it isn't acute and extreme stress that results in the highest amount of sickness and death.  Eight of the top 10 causes of death have been connected to stressful conditions that endure over long periods of time. 

Chronic stress is a major risk factor for disease.

This makes complete sense.  If we consider the functional effects of stress, such as inhibiting digestion, immunity, and thinking ability, increasing blood sugar and blood pressure, and stimulating increases in lung function, then what would we expect to happen when we are under these influences over a long time?  Heart disease, strokes, digestive problems, mental illness (depression, anxiety, etc), infections and immune-related diseases, diabetes, etc.

Stressors, and the body's natural responses to them, are the risk factors and mechanisms by which most diseases occur.

In a nutshell, we don't digest, assimilate, regenerate and generally heal properly when we are stuck in a chronic "stress-on" state.



Stress & Disease

Stress is linked to the following leading causes of death as a cause, risk factor, or complicating factor:


Heart Disease


Lung Diseases



Alzheimer's Disease

Influenza and Pneumonia

Kidney Disease


(Cause of Death Source: StatsCan)








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