Understanding Our Body’s Stress Response

In Stress Management by New Moon Holistic Life2 Comments

An unfortunately common theme in today’s world – everyone is stressed! Whether it’s stress from work, school, family, friends, relationships, and especially stress about ourselves, we carry this stress around with us. We may not realize it, but all of this stress wreaks havoc on our bodies. Managing our stress response is so important to our health, but first it’s important to understand how and why we have the stress response that we do. 

What is Stress?

I’m going to get into some of the science to explain stress. First, let’s start with the brain. Our brain has an Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). This system operates automatically, controlling our bodily functions like our heart beating, digestion, respiratory function, and more. Within our Autonomic Nervous System there are two parts – the Sympathetic Nervous System and the Parasympathetic Nervous System. The Sympathetic Nervous System is also known as our “fight or flight” system. The Parasympathetic Nervous System is responsible for the body’s rest and digestion when the body is relaxed, resting, or feeding. 

Our Sympathetic Nervous System is responsible for our body’s stress response. It is an involuntary and automatic trigger that occurs when we perceive that there is danger or stress. This fight or flight system was developed in our brains thousands of years ago when our ancestors needed to get away from danger, such as running away from a predator. The fight or flight response automatically triggered, and subsided once they were safe again. Today, this fight or flight response still exists within us because our ancestors who had the best automatic stress response to the danger in their environments were more likely to survive, and thus, passed it on for generations.

Stress Levels

Today, our bodies automatically respond to stress in the same way that our ancestors did. Our fight or flight response gets triggered automatically when we feel stress. Our ancestors fight or flight response would subside once they were safe again, and their body would go back into homeostasis. The difference now is that we are usually not in life or death situations when we are stressed, which causes our body to stay in this fight or flight stress response, because there is no resolution to what caused the initial feeling of stress. Our brain can’t tell the difference between being stressed from a life or death situation and being stressed from work, so our bodies are not returning to homeostasis. This ends up increasing our cortisol (stress hormone) and our adrenaline, causing all kinds of health issues in our bodies. I’ve had my cortisol levels checked before and they were THREE times the normal amount. These high cortisol levels explained why I was having so much trouble sleeping, why I felt anxious all the time, and even why my skin was breaking out so badly. 

We need to manage our stress, and most importantly, we need to manage and control how we respond to stress.

Responding to Stress

Our perception of the stress in our lives is key. How bad is it? Is it worth literally causing damage to our body over the annoying email that we just read? Unfortunately, we don’t always realize that it’s happening, but all of these annoying little stressors can be triggering our stress response and causing damage. 

We can’t always change the circumstance or the situation that we are in, but we can control and manage our response to it. Rather than getting immediately upset and worked up over something, we need to become aware of what we are feeling. We need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and realize what is and isn’t in our control. Yes, that email from your boss may have been about a project deadline being pushed up and now you have 60 hours of work and only 40 hours to do it in, and you’re feeling stressed. Situations like this happen to everyone, and they are going to continue to happen, but you have control over how you respond to it. Life is too precious to put so much of our energy into being upset, mad, angry, and stressed to the things that happen that we don’t have any control over. We need to recognize the thoughts that we are having about the stressor, and work on managing our perception. If you are in a situation that you believe is always going to cause you stress, it is still in your power to manage your reaction to the stress. In the long run, it might be time to look for something different, something that is going to help you to have a more positive perception.

What Can I Do?

We are in control of our own lives, and we have the ability to create whatever we want. Managing our stress is so important for being healthy. So what can you do to prevent this fight or flight response from triggering and staying active in your body? Awareness and perception are the most important tools that we need to be aware of. We also need to spend time taking care of ourselves to manage our stress – this might include meditation, exercising, eating healthy, and so much more. We are not doomed to be stressed forever – there are many tools and options available to us that we need to make sure we are using.

I work a lot with my clients on managing their stress and managing their perception of that stress. I hope this has helped you understand why you are feeling stressed, and can give you a starting point to begin to manage it better! If you need more help with your stress and creating a healthy, fulfilling life, get in touch with me at New Moon Holistic Life!


  1. Awesome read. It’s so interesting to know that our bodies have automatic triggers, yet we DO have control on how we react. A reminder we always need.

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