The Stress Effect

by Nicole van Heerden on July 14, 2020

House of Health - The Stress Effect

The Stress Effect

I want you to stop and think about a time when you were stressed or anxious. That time could be right now, how did you feel? How did your body feel? How did your mind feel? What happened to your relationships? Did you eat more or did you eat less? Did you cry? Did you exclude yourself from all situations? Did you get sick? What if I told you these are physiological processes which were stress induced and are your body’s response to the stressor. Right now, stress is all around us – everyone is stressed more than ever before. It is a scary time, but we want to help you understand what is happening to your body and how to cope.

Stress is an extremely interesting physiological response because technically it can be initially classified as psychological which stimulates various hormonal responses and presenting through physical changes. Have you ever gone into see the doctor with a stomach ache and they have asked you if you’re stressed or anxious? Well here’s the thing, it’s easy to classify stress and anxiety into a psychological ‘category’, but it is so important to note the physical, physiological and behavioural responses that occur due to stress or anxiety. Before I give you a summary of the responses that occur, remember being in a stress is a state of fight or flight, which is important when you think of evolution and survival of the fittest. (Yaribeygi, Panahi, Sahraei, Johnston & Sahebka, 2017):

  1. Brain Function – Stress impacts on your ability to retain (cognition); gain (learn) and recall (memory) information. It is important to note that when we talk about memory, you should know that there are different types: sensory (shortest/ immediate); short-term (working memory); long-term memory. Long-term memory is further divided into explicit (conscious) and implicit (unconscious). Here we are talking about the explicit memory being affected, specifically the declarative memory (which contains episodic, the memory of experiences and events, and semantic, which is learnt facts and information). This is important because your implicit memory is also known as your procedural memory, so this is important when the stress is due to danger.
  2. Gastro-Intestinal Tract (GIT) – This can be broken up into 4 parts: appetite; digestive function; GIT movements and inflammation. Essentially what happens is your body signals a stress response, your appetite decreases (yes you read that right and yes emotional eating is REAL, but this is a psychological coping mechanism and not physiological); your digestive functions are decreased as this uses a lot of energy that your body tries to conserve; your GIT movements accelerate, however the stomach is inhibited from emptying; and inflammation increases (i.e. all those with IBS- you know this is often a trigger and I stand with you when I say: THE BLOAT IS REAL). If you want me to go more into this in the gut-health series, let me know in the comments below or pop me a DM.
  3. Immune System Function – so it’s exam time or a stressful time at work and you begin to start feeling under the weather. Easy to say that it’s because of stress right? Wrong, acute stress won’t affect the functioning of the immune system, it’s the stimulation of adrenaline which can result in lack of sleep which will then impact your immune system. However chronic stress does impact the effectiveness of the immune systems functioning (Segerstrom & Miller, 2004).
  4. Endocrine System – the endocrine is essentially your “hormone system” (that was not scientific at all so don’t quote me on that). Yaribeygi, Panahi, Sahraei, Johnston and Sahebka (2017) describe the endocrine system and stress as “a broad and mutual relationship”. Hmmm, lets unpack that shall we – essentially the endocrine system has an effect on the stress response (the endocrine hormones released result in the various changes/ effects mentioned above) and stress has an effect on the function on the endocrine system it can either activate / stimulate or alter the processes of many endocrine glands.


Wow, that was quite long, sorry there is so much information out there and it’s hard to always simplify it as I believe in order for you to make life-long sustainable changes, you need to understand the reasons behind making the change.

If you are like me and you skip to the pictures ;) here is a little infographic for you:


Next week we will be talking about how to help and manage your stress. Please don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter so that you can see the blogs as soon as they are up and please share with your loved ones, so we can all be a little less stressed. We hope you have a happy and healthy day xxx


  • Segerstrom, S., & Miller, G. (2004). Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta

Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry. Psychological Bulletin130(4), 601-630. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.130.4.601

  • Yaribeygi, H., Panahi, Y., Sahraei, H., Johnston, T., & Sahebka, A. (2017). The impact of stress on

body function: A review. EXCLI Journal: Experimental And Clinical Sciences16, 1057 - 1072. doi: 10.17179/excli2017-480


DISCLAIMER: This blog post in no way aims to provide medical or psychological advice. It merely aims to provide some understanding of the stress and anxiety responses which occur in the body. The term “anxiety” in this article refers to the psychological and emotional response of feeling anxious, it is not to provide advice or to describe an anxiety disorder. This is based on the writer’s opinion and research.


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