An important part of managing your stress is knowing what your stress looks like. Your stress responses can take different forms: bodily changes, emotional changes, and behavioral changes. Although they look very different, they are all possible responses you may have when confronted with a stressful situation.
Your body reacts
When you’re in fight-or-flight mode, your physiological system goes into high gear. Often your body tells you first that you’re experiencing stress. You may notice that you’re breathing more quickly than you normally do and that your hands feel cool and more than a little moist. But that’s just for starters.
If you could see what’s happening below the surface, you’d also notice some other changes. Your sympathetic nervous system, one of the two branches of your autonomic nervous system, is producing changes in your body.
Your hypothalamus, a small portion of your brain located above the brain stem, stimulates your pituitary, a small gland near the base of your brain. It releases a hormone into the bloodstream called adrenocorticotropic hormone(ACTH). When that hormone reaches your adrenal glands, they in turn produce extra adrenalin (also known as epinephrine) along with other hormones called glucocorticoids. (Cortisol is one.)
This biochemical domino effect causes an array of other remarkable changes in your body. This diagram helps you see what’s going on.