When you encounter stress, a physical change take place in your body. These changes allow you to react quickly and to use your body’s resources to cope with the stress. The changes that occur can be either helpful or harmful. Their effect depends on

  • your responseWomen in therapy hugging woman friend
  • the length of time they last
  • coping strategies, you use.

3 Stages of Stress

As your body copes with stress, it must adapt, or adjust, to the stressor and the changes it causes. This process of adapting, called the general adaptation syndrome, occurs in three stages.

The three stages are;

  1. Alarm stage
  2. Resistance stage
  3. Exhaustions stage

The 3 can happen quickly or they can happen slowly. Your body’s responses as you go through these stages depend on the stressor and the way in which you deal with it.

Imagine that you are walking though a forest. Just as you are enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of the forest, a huge black bear appears in front of you. How would your body react?

STAGE 1: ALARM STAGE   As soon as you become aware of something you consider dangerous, you enter the first stage of stress, the alarm stage. Your body releases a substance known as adrenaline into your bloodstream, which gives you a burst of energy and causes many other changes in your body. Your heart begins to beat faster, increasing the flow of blood to your muscles. Your breathing quickens, providing more oxygen for your body’s activities. Your muscles tighten, making you ready to run. Less blood flows to your stomach and digestive system, so your arms and legs can have all the blood they need. Your pupils widen, allowing more light into your eyes. A lump develops in your throat as your throat muscles contract to help open the airways to your lungs and make breathing easier.

These changes take only a few seconds, but ocne they have taken place, your body is ready to react. You can react in one of two ways: you can stand and fight or you can run away. This reaction is called the “fight or flight response” because the changes prepare you to either “fight” the stressors or take “flight” and escape.

As your body responds to the stressor, your mind also reacts. During the alarm stage you become more alert. You take in information and concentrate better. You also experience a greater level of anxiety, which can lead to either constructive or unconstructive coping strategies.

STAGE 2: THE RESISTANCE STAGE    The resistance stage is the second stage and during this stage, the body tries to recover from the alarm of the first stage. The heart and breathing will slow down. Pupils return to their normal size. Muscles relax. Blood returns to the stomach and digestive system. This normal, balanced state is called homeostasis. When your body is in homeostasis, its internal function stay the same, even when the external environment changes. You then have the energy to do the things you usually do.

If coping strategies are constructive and last a short time, the stress response ends at the stage. The body had resisted the stressor effectively and can regain homeostasis.

STAGE 3: EXHAUSTION STAGE    Exhaustion occurs only if distress continues for a long time-usually weeks, months, or even years. People often enter the exhaustion stage when they experience stress that is beyond their control-such as a divorce or their serious family problems. In the exhaustion stage, you become less able to resist new stressors, and your body has more difficulty returning to calm. As your body’s balance remains disturbed, making judgments, interacting with people, and maintaining your health become more difficult. In extreme cases, the exhaustion stage can lead to unhealthy behaviour and serious illness, adrenal and chronic fatigue.

To remain healthy, your body needs to regain calm soon after experiencing stress. To help you body do this, you need to learn constructive coping strategies.


Once you understand the fight or flight response, you can identify some of your own physical responses to stress.

  • Muscle tension, “butterflies” in your stomach
  • flushing of your face
  • pounding in your head
  • indigestion
  • skin rashers
  • backaches
  • headaches

By itself, stress does not usually cause serious illness. Most of us experience physical symptoms from time to time but regain calm rather quickly. Severe or prolonged distress, however, can affect your health. It can lower your body’s resistance to illness, and it can make some diseases more serious and harder to control.


Normally, the body protects itself from disease through to immune system. The immune system protects the body through a complicated process involving a number of specialized body cells. When you speak of “fighting off” the flu or a cold, it is the immune system that does the fighting. When your immune system functions well, you are able to resist some illnesses, even when you are exposed to them.

Scientific research has shown that prolonged stress of distress can keep the immune system from functioning well. If your immune system is not working well, you may have minor illnesses, like colds, and full, more often. You may also be more likely to develop a serious illness. Scientists have found that many infections and even certain kinds of cancer the uncontrolled growth of cells, are more common among people who experience prolonged stress or distress. Although stress is not the major cause of the diseases, it can be one of many causes that combined lead to illness.

Stress can even contribute to disease that may take years to appear. Hearts disease, for example, can be caused party by stress. Heart disease, for example, can be caused partly by stress. Stress raises a person’s blood pressure. High blood pressure occurs when the blood pushes hard against the blood vessels as it flows though them. Over time, high blood pressure can contribute to heart attacks. Coping constructively with stress is one way to help control high blood pressure and lower the risk of heart attacks.

Stress also contributes to accidents and injuries. People who are tired, distracted, or careless are more likely to injure themselves and others. When stress affects your ability to concentrate or to think clearly, you need to be especially careful. Recognizing stress allows you to take extra care.


Stress is something to not take lightly and if you are living with prolonged stress seeing a counsellor can be enormously helpful to begin making some changes. The top 4 stressors I see in my office are

  • Relationship Stress
  • Time Management Stress
  • Financial stress
  • Health Stress