The Stress Response

mountain2Why understanding the stress response is important:

It is important to understand the stress response because it is a key component to how we feel and live on a daily basis.

One of the primary goals of is to discuss and offer techniques to self-regulate the body’s nervous system.

  • Imagine learning ways to tune down the stress response in your body.
  • Imagine changing your reaction to  any and all stress.
  • Imagine being able to call upon the calming part of your nervous system and restore a sense of well-being during stressful times.

This can be done.


What is stress?

In physics, stress is defined as “the force, strain, or pressure on a system”.   Hans Selye, an endocrinologist and leader in the field of stress research, defines stress as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand”.  Stress calls for a response in the body.  A certain amount of stress is good and healthy.  It becomes unhealthy  when the stress response is prolonged causes symptoms and/or disease.


Balance within the body:

The major goal of all vital mechanisms within the body is to preserve a stable, internal condition called homeostasis. Your body is constantly shifting and adjusting to maintain this state of balance (homeostasis). This ability of the body to adapt and balance internally is needed to sustain life and impacts the quality of your life.


How it all works:

The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is a primary factor in maintaining and restoring internal balance.  The control centers for the ANS are in the brain and impulses are carried throughout the body by two different systems.  They are: The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). Both of these systems affect the same organs and tissues, they just impact them differently.

  1. The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS)

The PNS quiets the body.  Its goal is to restore, rejuvenate, and conserve energy.  Physiologically, things are slowed down and the body, even at a cellular level, is allowed to recover and heal.

  1. The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS)

The SNS is our protector.  It responds to any threat or stress.  It initiates the fight or flight reaction or stress response.  The SNS is meant to keep us safe from harm.  When the SNS is activated, the body reacts with a massive discharge of energy to accomplish a common goal: to protect itself.  The SNS allows the body to act above and beyond normal, everyday function.


Stress can come in different forms, but the body reacts in the same way:

Let’s refer to stress in two ways:

  • Real stress refers to a life threatening event. An example is the reaction you have when a mountain lion is ready to attack or a speeding car is coming toward you.
  • Symbolic stress refers to the stressor that is not life threatening.  Examples are threats to your well-being, such as: Illness, injury, pain, worries, deadlines, insecurities, negative self-talk.  Each and every one of these can activate the stress response causing a real physiologic response.



  • The stress response is normal. Your body reacts to real and symbolic stress in the same way.
  • The brain cannot differentiate between real and symbolic stressors.
  • The degrees or level of reaction certainly can vary, but the physiologic changes that occur when the SNS is aroused are the same.


Physiologic changes of the stress response include:

  1. Heart rate and strength of contraction increases to keep up with the greater need for oxygen.
  2. Bronchioles (tubes going into the lungs) open up and respirations become rapid and shallow, setting off a series of chemical changes in the body.
  3. There is a change in the vascular (blood vessel) system throughout the body.  Vessels open and blood floods into tissues and organs needed for action (skeletal muscles, heart and lungs).  Blood vessels constrict or get smaller that feed non-vital areas such as the gastrointestinal tract, the urinary and reproductive systems. Digestion, kidney and liver function are impaired.  The skin and especially hands and feet can get cold as a result of this constriction. Vasoconstriction of the outlying vessels can lead to more pressure on the heart and an increase in blood pressure.
  4. Blood sugar levels increase to supply the body with more energy to meet increased demands.
  5. The stress hormones produced in the adrenal glands aid in heightening alertness.  There is an increase in secretion of sweat.  Over time these become symptoms of anxiety.
  6. When the SNS is activated for a period of time and the stress is not removed, the endocrine system is triggered to produce and release chemicals (stress hormones) that keep the SNS activated.


In summary:

Your body is not meant to live in SNS activation for long periods of time.  Without intervention or removal of the stressor, this self-perpetuating cycle will continue.  Eventually an aroused SNS can lead to anxiety, disease, and compromised immune system.

Yes, your symptoms are real. offers you information and tools to self-regulate your autonomic nervous system, bringing you back into a healthy state of balance.