Stress response


Stress can be defined as a non-specific response of the body to change demand. In humans, stress occurs when they fails to respond to threats appropriately.

Acute Versus Chronic Stress

Acute stress is an immediate reaction to a threat. It happens when a person encounters immediate danger over a short period which activates the sympathetic nervous system fight response. Response to acute stressor is sudden and intense; in some cases it can even be stimulating. Instances when an individual experience acute stress is during a job interview, narrowly escaping an accident or being chased by thugs. A single episode of acute stress may not lead health problem, however, severe one can cause mental health.

Chronic stress is characterized by repetitive exposure to sources of anxiety and frustration that an individual encounters on daily basis leading to the production of stress hormone that can be harmful to a person’s health. It can lead to health problems such as headache and insomnia. Examples of chronic stress include loss of a job, chronic illness or abuse incurred during childhood that involves repetitive acute stress over a long period.

How Stress is detected

Amygdala is a region of the brain located above the brain stem that detect stress and modulates subsequent responses. It acts as a sensor by screening every input for possible threats. Its function is to translate stimuli such as sounds and images to emotions, thus initiating a fight to flight response. When amygdala senses danger, it shuts brain operation and prepares the body to fight, and this allows an individual to react before he/she realizes what is happening. When amygdala sense a threat, the signal is sent to the hypothalamus. The signals are relayed through the automatic nervous system. These signals have a format of the nerve impulses. Hypothalamus acts like command centres that transfer the signal to other functions of the body via the nervous system, and this alert them to provide energy to fight.  When an individual experience repetitive stress encounters, amygdala becomes overly sensitive. It also enable us to store stressful events so that we can recognize them if they happen in future.

Hormones involved in stress response

Hormones are chemical regulatory substances in an organism that acts like a messenger to specific cells and tissues. Stress hormones including cortisol, adrenaline, corticotrophin and norepinephrine are essential for thee adaptation to major life stressors.


When the brain recognizes presence of a stressful situation, it sends the message to adrenal glands to produce adrenaline hormone. When this hormone is produced, it enables us to react to the situation immediately, it give energy to escape from a dangerous situation.


It is produced from adrenal glands and the brain. Its primary function is arousal during a stressful situation. It helps shift blood from areas that are not crucial to the muscles so that you can escape from stressful situation.


Cortisol is also produced by the adrenal glands to impact stress response. It is regulated through HPA axis to produce negative feedback to stressor. However, it is not produced immediately it takes a process of hormone production. When in danger, amygdala recognizes a threat, which then communicates with the hypothalamus to release a hormone known as corticotropin. The released hormone then alerts the pituitary gland and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is thus released (Pearson Higher Education, 2014). Finally, the ACTH alerts the adrenal gland to release cortisol.


It is produced when corticotropin-releasing hormone is transported to pituitary where it stimulates secretion of corticotrophin. It is released if the brain continues to interpret the situation to be dangerous. It then stimulates increased production of cortisol that impact stress response.

Role of HPA in stress response

The HPA axis is composed of various hormones namely pituitary gland, hypothalamus, and adrenal glands (“Understanding the Stress Response”, 2014). It relies on all these hormones to ensure that the sympathetic nervous system remains calm. However, if the stressful situation persists, hypothalamus then releases vasopressin as well as corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH)  that are responsible for activating the vasopressin, and this activate the HPA axis. The CRH the travels to the pituitary glands and stimulates it to release corticotrophin hormone. The corticotropin then travels through the bloodstream to adrenal gland which then triggers production of the cortisol hormones.  In a stressful situation, cortisol is released several hours after the encounter.  However, when it reaches a particular blood concentration, cortisol alerts at pituitary glands to release cortocotropin and hypothalamic release of CRH. This helps our body to remain focused. The parasympathetic system then dampens the stress response. When the stressful situation persists, our body adjusts to the stressful situation and HPA axis is continuously activated. Therefore, cortisol level should be maintained to ensure all the hormones have the required levels of sensitivity to the feedback of cortisol. Other hormones released by the hypothalamus such as vasopressin stimulates the cortical to increase uptake of water in the kidney and ensure that only a small volume of urine is formed.

Stress Countermeasures

Stressful situations are a fact of life; however an individual can counter stress by organization and planning. You can learn to identify an event that stresses you and how you can handle yourself in stressful situations.

The first step in countering stress starts with identifying sources of stress and how to manage them (Mayo Health Clinic, n.d). An individual can make a list of events that trigger stress response. Counteracting different stressor can take time, start small and pick particular stress reaction and follow it. For example, external stress can be managed by exercising regularly, eating balanced diet and using relaxation techniques such as breathing, massage, yoga among others.   Anger can be countered with calming strategies such as withdrawing and shutting down.

An individual can also seek professional counseling when needed (Mayo Health Clinic, n.d). Talking with a professional about stressful situations you are going through can help you to understand issues that are causing stress.  Working with a professional can help an individual identify personal stress triggers and ways of coping with them.

Furthermore, fostering a healthy friendship can also be helpful in stressful situations. When stressed, an individual can be able to talk through his/her difficulties with friends; the release of talking about your concerns can be enough to reduce stress.

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  1. Mayo Health Clinic (n.d). Stress Management. Retrieved on 9 February 2017, at
  2. Pearson Higher Education. (2014). Endocrine System. Retrieved on 9 February 2017, at
  3. Understanding the Stress Response. (2014). Harvard Health Publications. Harvard University. Retrieved from 9 February 2017 from
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