Stress Symptoms

Stress is a both a psychological and a physiological response

to events that upset our personal balance.

What Happens?

When faced with a threat, be it physical safety or emotional equilibrium, the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” response: – the heart pounds in the chest, muscles tense up, breathing rate becomes faster. In fact, every one of our senses is put on the alert.

The Fight or Flight Response?

When danger is sensed, a small part of the brain called the hypothalamus sets off a chemical alarm. The ‘fight-or-flight’ stress response results in a cascade of biological changes that prepare us for emergency action.

The sympathetic nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, ie cortisol, adrenaline and nor-epinephrine. These stress hormones flow through our blood stream, preparing us to either ‘flee’ or ‘fight’.

Physical changes that occur:

  • Heart rate & blood flow to the large muscles increase so we can run faster and fight harder.
  • Blood vessels under the skin constrict to prevent blood loss in case of injury.
  • Pupils dilate so we can see better.
  • Blood sugar increases, giving us an energy boost and speeding up reaction time.

At the same time, body processes not essential to immediate survival are suppressed.

  • The digestive system slows down.
  • The reproductive system slow down.
  • Growth hormones are switched off, and
  • The immune response is inhibited.

This physiological and biological stress response is meant to protect and support us. In the Stone Age our ancestors survived the life-or-death situations they commonly faced in this way.

In the modern world, however, most of the stress we feel is in response to psychological rather than physical threats.

For example, getting audited by the IRS qualify or losing your job is a stressful situation, but neither requires a ‘fight or flight’ response. Unfortunately, our bodies cannot make this distinction.

Whether we’re stressed over an argument with a friend, a IRS audit, or the responsibility of taking care of an extremely ill parent, the warning bells ring. To our bodies it is exactly as if we were cavemen confronting a ferocious lion. We go into automatic ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ response – an automatic occurrence.

We may be running on stress a good portion of the time. We rev up into emergency mode with every traffic jam, phone call from our supervisor, or news of a national crisis. There are daily responsibilities and worries that concern us

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