Hormones and stress?

How are hormones and stress linked? Stress has existed since the beginning of mankind. This chemical reaction had the goal of helping us survive and warning us in case of danger. This has proven itself very useful in prehistoric times and in times of danger. Stress helps us to respond to danger more quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, stress has lost its function over time and has often received a negative connotation.

Stress is therefore not only something which occurs in our minds, but also in the body. When our brain gets the instruction of showing stress, a physical reaction takes place first of all. Our body will increase the production of certain hormones, meaning a link is made between hormones and stress. It is useful to know about this physical reaction, so that it is easier to recognize stress and to react to it.

Hormones and stress: the physical reaction

Hormones and stress definitely work together. When the signal is given to our brain that something dangerous is going on, this link between hormones and stress will be activated. Our brain will then give the task of increasing the production of cortisol. This hormone is also sometimes called the stress hormone. Except for the production of cortisol, there also is another link between hormones and stress, namely found in the production of adrenalin. Except for the increased production of cortisol, more adrenalin will also be produced in case of stress.

After our brain has given the instruction of increasing the production of these 2 hormones, the first phase of hormones and stress has been completed. The next phase, in which the link between hormones and stress becomes clear, is the reaction to the situation. As the situation is interpreted as dangerous, your body will help you to respond more quickly, and cortisol makes your body ready to experience more power.

The third phase in the link between hormones and stress is that your body will pick a suitable response. This response is fighting, fleeing, or ‘freezing’. If you choose to flee, the hormones and stress will make it so that you can get further and faster. If you choose to fight, the hormones and stress will make it so that you respond more quickly and that you can fight using more power. If you choose to freeze and thus do nothing, your body will find itself in a state where you feel like you cannot do anything.

Hormones and stress: is the physical reaction still accurate?

In many cases this reaction of hormones and stress has lost its use. If you come into contact with a life threatening situation, like standing eye to eye with a tiger, the hormones and stress will give you an increased chance of survival. In that case you can still use stress in order to help you to survive.

However, it is so that we in modern society have started to interpret situations as life threatening, even while they really are not. Your brain will still interpret them this way, though, and thereby activate a stress response.

Our brain thus has, in many cases, gotten a wrongful image as of what a dangerous situation is, meaning that stress has for the most part lost its use. To some extent, stress can still be useful, for example by letting you study or work more quickly, even while this was no the original intention of stress. However, as we consider more and more situations as dangerous, the production of hormones and stress is increased by the brain to such an extent that it will stop us from responding adequately.

Hormones and stress: negative conditioning of the brain

You thus teach your brain which situations should be interpreted as dangerous. This happens at the hand of situations which you have experienced in the past, and the way you deal with these. These experiences and feelings are of course individual, which makes the interpreting of situations as dangerous also personal and individual. This way we can explain why there is a difference between different people when it comes to stress responses in certain situations. Because your colleague does not interpret the same pressure at work as ‘dangerous’ like you do, chances are lower that they will experience stress, while you are more prone to do so.

It is therefore useful to remember that you are in charge of your own biological processes, from showcasing stress, to increasing production of hormones and stress, and even to the reacting to a stressful situation. This is good news, because it means that the key to reducing stress also lies with you. You can thus actively undertake action in order to reduce stress.