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How Your Body Responds To Stress

Information Handout

Many clients identify with the concept of ‘stress’ more readily than ‘threat’ and the The How Your Body Responds To Stress information handout visually describes the most common physiological responses to stress.

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Description

The sympathetic nervous system is activated in response to stimuli processed as threatening. It controls ‘fight or flight’ responses which, when activated to a high degree, can result in powerful body sensations. At a lower level of intensity the same physiological system responds to stress. Many clients identify with the concept of ‘stress’ more readily than ‘threat’ and the The How Your Body Responds To Stressinformation handout visually describes the most common physiological responses to stress. Components of the response about which clinicians will find it helpful to be informed include:

  • Brain response: threats are detected at the level of the amygdala, but the hypothalamus is responsible for activating body systems in response to the stress
  • The hypothalamus releases cortocotrophin-releasing hormone
  • The adrenal glands respond by releasing epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol which have stimulate a number of fur-ther systems with the effect of preparing the body to respond to the stress or threat:
  • Bronchioles dilate facilitating higher oxygen intake
  • Heart rate increases facilitating greater oxygen and glucose transport
  • Blood pressure increases in response to the increase in heart rate
  • Liver converts glycogen to glucose allowing for greater energy expenditure
  • The (non-essential) digestive system is down-regulated to facilitate greater energy expenditure elsewhere

Instructions

This is a Psychology Tools information handout. Suggested uses include:

  • Client handout – use as a psychoeducation resource
  • Discussion point – use to provoke a discussion and explore client beliefs
  • Therapist learning tool – improve your familiarity with a psychological construct
  • Teaching resource – use as a learning tool during training

References

  • Sapolsky, R. M. (2004). Why zebras don’t get ulcers. Holt paperbacks.