How Your Body Uses Epinephrine in Stress Response

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Also known as adrenaline, epinephrine is a naturally occurring hormone that's used during the body's stress response.

During the fight-or-flight response, the adrenal gland releases epinephrine into the bloodstream, along with other hormones like cortisol, which does the following:

  • Signals the heart to pump harder.
  • Increases blood pressure.
  • Opens airways in the lungs.
  • Narrows blood vessels in the skin and intestine to increase blood flow to major muscle groups.
  • Performs other functions to enable the body to fight or run when encountering a perceived threat.

The Role of Perceived Threat

The term perceived threat makes an important distinction and brings up a critical point to remember: as in the case of chronic stress, the body's stress response is repeatedly triggered on a daily basis in response to actual physical and psychological threats as well as perceived psychological threats. As a result, the body can become exhausted, and the overabundance of epinephrine and cortisol, as well as other aspects of the body's stress response, can become maladaptive, resulting in lowered immunity and other health problems

Good Stress

Another important thing to remember about epinephrine and the body's stress response is that it can be triggered in response to negative stress as well as excitement or eustress. While eustress or 'positive stress' can help maintain vitality, it's still important to maintain balance in how much your stress response is triggered and to avoid too much total stress.

Relieving Stress

If you find that your body's stress response seems to be triggered much of the time, it's important to find stress relievers that work well for you. These are the stress relievers that work well enough and are enjoyable enough that you'll practice them regularly. Here are a few to consider.

  • Short-term stress relievers: Having a few stress relievers up your sleeve that can help you to calm your body quickly can help you to reverse your stress response and move on after you face a stressor. A few to consider include: deep breathing, guided imagery, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or taking a short walk.
  • Healthy habits: Maintaining lifestyle habits that help you to relieve long-term stress, including healthy eating, regular exercise, and quality sleep, can help you to build resilience. The key is to practice them regularly, and not just when you feel stressed. 
  • Change the way you look at things: Changing your perception of a situation can alter the frequency and severity of your stress reaction to what's going on in your life. Sometimes the mind plays tricks on us and makes it seem like things are bleak or more stressful than they actually are. Even when the stress is real, you can minimize it by altering the way you talk to yourself (your self-talk), what you choose to focus on, and the meaning you attribute to various situations You can read about some strategies for improving your way of experiencing the world by shifting your perspective.

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.