The stress response is subserved by the stress system, which is located both in the central nervous system and the periphery. The principal effectors of the stress system include corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH); arginine vasopressin; the proopiomelanocortin-derived peptides alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone and beta-endorphin, the glucocorticoids; and the catecholamines norepinephrine and epinephrine. Appropriate responsiveness of the stress system to stressors is a crucial prerequisite for a sense of well-being, adequate performance of tasks, and positive social interactions. By contrast, inappropriate responsiveness of the stress system may impair growth and development and may account for a number of endocrine, metabolic, autoimmune, and psychiatric disorders. The development and severity of these conditions primarily depend on the genetic vulnerability of the individual, the exposure to adverse environmental factors, and the timing of the stressful events, given that prenatal life, infancy, childhood, and adolescence are critical periods characterized by increased vulnerability to stressors.