Adrenaline surges through your body in response to our inherited 'fight or flight' mechanism that automatically comes into play when we are faced with danger. Real danger from a burglary or imagined danger from losing a loved one both have the same effect on your body. A whole network of chemical connections comes into play and set off bodily changes that we associate with stress. Your body is instinctively trying to help you cope with danger, and you need to know more about how it does that if you want to cope with your stress.
We have no control over our autonomic nervous system which governs this reflex. WE never have to do anything to keep breathing and our heart beating because this involuntary system is doing it automatically. We don't have to think about breathing - it is automatic.
The autonomic nervous system has two parts; the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nerves and they have totally different and opposite actions. When we are alarmed our heart rate speeds up and that is the sympathetic nerves in action, and when you are calming down it is the parasympathetic nerves which slow the heart rate to it's normal level.
It is the balance between these two nerves that indicates how you respond to a stressful situation response to danger is governed by these two nerves and.
The body's response: When you face danger the sympathetic nervous system goes immediately into action and stimulates your adrenal glands to secret more of the hormones adrenalin and cortisol. This activity diverts all your other bodily activity away from everyday functions like digestion and directs all its efforts into your muscles so you are ready to run, or stand and fight.
To give you more much-needed energy, the amounts of fat and glucose circulating in the blood are increased and your breath becomes more rapid in order to draw in more oxygen. You may well have noticed a clear physical sign of stress when you go pale. This is because the blood is literally drained away and sent to areas where it is more needed. You can also probably hear your heart thumping as both your blood pressure and heart rate skyrocket.
This rapid increase in hormonal and nervous system activity can also cause diarrhea or nausea and the mouth to become dry as the saliva glands reduce their non-essential output. Other changes also occur in our sweat glands as they increase production, so you may experience a 'cold sweat' on your skin. When in danger the senses we need are sharpened, so our hearing becomes more acute and our pupils expand to take in as much light as possible so we can see the situation more clearly.
When in a dangerous situation there is always the possibility of injury and so the body prepares itself for the worst by releasing endorphins from the adrenal and pituitary glands as well as the brain to help us deal with any potential pain. Endorphins act like strong painkillers to reduce feeling in the inured area, and also help the blood clot faster so as to speed up the healing process.
All these are excellent defense mechanisms when faced with a serious threat, but unfortunately they arise just the same whether your life is under attack or someone has trodden on your foot in a lift. There is no regulator, and as we rarely encounter life threatening attacks, if we are frequently responding on this level then our body literally becomes exhausted. Plus our hormonal balance is upset by having to throw in all its reserves all of the time. When we are stressed this is what we are doing and why those under constant stress feel so tired and drained.