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Understanding Stress

What is stress? 

Stress refers to the body’s inability to mentally, physically, emotional, and spiritually cope with threats, whether perceived or actual, resulting in various psychological and physiological responses.

Simply put: The Survival Instinct…Stress is a program in the body designed to help us survive.

What happens to me when I experience stress?

1. Fight or flight (alarm response)- Your body prepares to physically and psychologically address the perceived threat.

2. Stage of resistance- Your body remains in a state of readiness to address the perceived threat (but not at the same level as in the fight or flight stage).

3. Stage of exhaustion- Your body has depleted all energy reserves and is unable to maintain the highly vigilant state it experiences in stage 1 and stage 2.

Is all stress the same?

No, not all stress is the same. Also, not everyone’s response to stress is the same. The response to stress differs from person to person.

Levels of Stress


Eustress, which derives from the Greek word meaning ‘good,’ refers to the body’s positive response to external stressors. Eustress provides motivational, pleasant, and enjoyable effects.


Distress refers to the body’s negative response to external stressors that are apprised and seen as adverse to one’s wellbeing. Distress activates the “fight or flight” response in the body.


Neustress describes the stress we experience that has no significant effects on our mind or body. Neustress is neither good nor bad.

Types of Stress

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), there are three types of stress:

Acute Stress

Acute stress is also known as short-term stress. Acute stress is minor and dissipates quickly, having a beginning and an end. Acute stress typically occurs when a variable, or variables, disturbs the normalcy in our lives.

Chronic Stress

Chronic stress, also known as long term stress, wreaks havoc on the body over an extended period. Chronic stress can last days, weeks, months, and some instances, for years. Chronic stress destroys us mentally, physically, and spiritually. Because chronic stress prolongs the bodies stress response, the byproduct is often chronic illness and chronic disease.

Episodic (Acute) Stress

Episodic stress is a combination of numerous acute stressors occurring all at once. Episodic stress can come in both positive and negative forms.

The Fight-or-Flight Response

When the body encounters a stressor, the stress response occurs, and the body (adrenal glands) secretes stress hormones called catecholamines Two of these catecholamines are epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline). These hormones prepare you physically and mentally to either fight or flee. Adrenal glands also release aldosterone and cortisol and the pituitary gland secretes vasopressin.

Aldosterone and Vasopressin

Both aldosterone and vasopressin preserve blood volume by reducing the amount of sodium and water the kidneys excrete. The result of this process is:

  • The heart rate rises, and blood pressure increases to pump blood to the vital organs;
  • The rate and depth of respiration increase to deliver the maximum amount of oxygen and nutrients to all cells in the body;
  • The liver releases glucose and glycogen to supply the muscles with energy and the brain with fuel for thought;
  • Blood vessels in the vital organs dilate to receive the maximum amount of nutrients an oxygen available;
  • Blood vessels in non-vital organs constrict so that blood flow is maximized in the vital organs.


The release of cortisol increases glucose production and helps break down fats and proteins for energy. High levels of cortisol inhibit the production of inflammatory substances that dilate blood vessels and support various functions of the immune system, resulting in immune suppression and inflammation. When cortisol levels remain high for extended periods of time, immune system function decreases or shuts down altogether. 

Stress and serotonin, noradrenalin, and dopamine

Stress interferes with the production of three vital hormones is interrupted in the body:

Serotonin (Derived from the amino acid tryptophan)

Serotonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain that helps you get a good night sleep. Serotonin controls your body clock by converting (acetylated then methylated) into melatonin and back into serotonin every 24 hours. The serotonin cycle is synchronized with the cycle of the sun, regulating itself to the body’s exposure to sunlight and darkness. Stress can disrupt the sleep cycle, resulting disrupted sleep and insomnia.


Noradrenaline is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands and is related to the adrenaline that your body releases during stress to help you survive. Noradrenaline is associated with your daily energy cycle. Excessive stress can interrupt the body’s production of noradrenalin, reducing energy and motivation to perform daily or essential tasks during the day.

Dopamine (The third of the three catecholamines)

Dopamine a hormone linked to the release of endorphin in the brain. Endorphin helps kill pain experienced by the body and is related to substances such as morphine and heroin. Dopamine is also responsible for making you feel happy. The reduction of dopamine increases sensitivity to pain and makes life less enjoyable.