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Physiology of Stress

There are a variety of ways individuals feel stress physically, whether it is trembling hands or trouble sleeping. Stress is a part of every day life and while most people understand the symptoms of the stress response, few know the underlying physiological mechanisms.¹ In the realm of biology, stress is understood as what happens when an organism fails to response appropriately to threats. Stress can be ephemeral and beneficial, or it can be long-lasting and harmful, which can cause depression.¹ Managing stress properly is of great importance given the wide range of bodily systems impacted by stress hormones.

Homeostasis is a concept central to the idea of stress. Most biochemical processes strive to maintain equilibrium (or homeostasis), a steady state that exists more as an ideal and less as an achievable condition.¹ Environmental factors, internal or external stimuli, continually disrupt homeostasis. A life-threatening situation such as a major physical trauma or prolonged starvation can greatly disrupt homeostasis.¹ 

Playing a critical role in the body's perception of an response to stress is the brain. Pinpointing exactly which part of the brain is responsible for particular aspects of a stress response is hard and often unclear.¹


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1. Ulrich-Lai, Y.M. and J.P. Herman. (2009). Neural regulation of endocrine and autonomic stress responses.

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