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Things You Need to Know About Stress Response

What is the stress response cycle? What happens when you get stressed? How does your body respond to stress? Stress is a normal and natural feeling when you are facing difficult and frustrating situations. 

The stress response, also known as the fight or flight response, refers to the body’s reaction system during an emergency situation. Its main purpose is to keep you safe during emergencies and unwanted situations in life.

a stressed guy

The Stress Response Cycle begins when the body becomes fully aware of the stressor’s existence and is then followed by a call to action.

Stressor—Stressors are the things, events, situations, or people that activate the stress response. The cycle starts with this. It is the time when your brain perceives that you are at risk.

When the brain senses a threat, you will notice that your body experiences changes as your adrenaline rushes and your blood pressure and heart rate increase. These changes are preparing your body for action. 

Action—The action that will be taken depends on the threat perceived. It is your stress response.

Your brain can either do the "flight" action wherein we escape to survive or take the "fight" action wherein we conquer the threat to survival. There are times when you just can’t do anything and your brain just stops working. This is called the "freeze response."

Relief—It is the final part of the stress response cycle wherein the body already copes with the stress. One good example of this cycle is that moment when you finally get rid of the stress you are experiencing regardless of how you faced it—either you fight, flight, or freeze.

a stressed girl looking at her laptop

What Do Your Stress Responses Mean?

This is a physiological reaction of our brain that is triggered by the hormones released that allow your body to be ready to deal with or run away from your stressors. Its major purpose is to keep you safe and prevent possible harm.

How does this stress response system work? Stress responses are your brain’s natural reactions to mental and physical danger or terrifying situations. It allows you to have awareness of the threats you are facing. These responses cause immediate changes in your hormones.

Your stress response starts in your brain. When you feel danger, the warning is sent to the amygdala, and then a distress signal is sent to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is like a command center that communicates and coordinates with the entire body using the nervous system to give the affected person energy to either fight or flight. 

Cardiovascular System

As your stress response activates, there is a temporary change that occurs in your cardiovascular system that enhances your capability to fight or flight against your stressor.


Tensed muscles, especially in your neck and back area, are often felt when people experience stress.

This is your body’s preparation to react to the recent situation, either you fight, or you turn your back on that event.

Digestive System

When you feel stressed, you can’t eat for a while. This happens because your system takes a break to conserve a great amount of energy, allowing you to feel energized even without eating for a while.

Immune System

Your immune system tends to get a boost for a while as you face stressful situations. But prolonged exposure to stress can weaken your immune system.

What are stress hormones?

Your adrenal glands secrete hormones when you feel stressed or excited. During stressful situations, stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and glucagon are released from your adrenal glands.

What are stress hormones? These are hormones that the body produces when you are facing stressful situations. These powerful hormones are in charge of your fight-or-flight unconscious reactions to stress and stressors. 

Adrenaline—This is your fight-or-flight hormone that is released by the adrenal glands when you are stressed or at risk. This helps you react immediately to a certain situation. 

Norepinephrine—Just like adrenaline, this hormone is released when you feel sudden stress because of an emergency situation. This hormone allows you to be more responsive and helps you flee from the situation.

Cortisol—a steroid hormone and is also known as the stress hormone. This tends to act a little bit slower than adrenaline and norepinephrine as it takes multiple steps and involves two parts of the brain called the amygdala and the hypothalamus. It also involves two additional hormones called the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).

The relaxation reaction, according to  Dr. Herbert Benson, retired director of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, can be utilized to offset the stress response.

These relaxation responses include things that allow you to take time to relax, such as repetitive prayer, tai-chi, yoga, and deep abdominal breathing. 

Physiological Response to Stress

Sympathetic Response
  • The Sympathetic Nervous System, when faced with stressful situations, tends to act very quickly. These sympathetic responses increase your heart rate to cope with the stress. As we need more energy during stressful situations, SNS shoots up our fat and sugar levels. One good effect of the sympathetic response is that it allows us to enhance our skeletal muscles. This is the reason why you are able to carry things you never thought you could during emergencies.
Hormonal Response
  • The adrenal glands also help the body respond to stress. As the adrenal medulla begins to release the hormones called noradrenaline and adrenaline, they result in the fight or flight response of the body. 

Key Takeaways

There are several ways to counter chronic stress. Stress may be a normal thing that every one of us has experienced ever since, but keep in mind that too much stress can do harm to your health in the long run. When you are able to overcome the stress and fight the stressor, you are able to complete the stress response cycle successfully.

Take the same precautions with your mental health as you would with your physical health. Receiving social support from others, such as an enthusiastic hug from a loved one, as well as engaging in physical activities such as exercises, can help you combat and reduce stress.

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