Physiological and psychological characteristics of responses to stress

Physiological and psychological characteristics of responses to stress are part of the relationship between stress and wellbeing.

When we are stressed or perceive a threat, our body and mind prepare themselves. Psychological factors can lead to physiological response, and vice versa.

Fight-flight response

The ‘fight or fight’ (sometimes ‘fight, flight or freeze’) response is part of the sympathetic nervous system which activates when an organism perceives itself to be in threat (whether or not they actually are in threat is immaterial). When this response is activated, numerous physiological changes in the body occur. These may include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased perspiration
  • Increased respiration rate
  • Inhibited digestion
  • Loosening of bladder
  • Dilation of pupils
  • Dry mouth
  • Adrenaline released

Similarly, there are psychological factors which may be induced:

  • Anxiety
  • Disrupted cognitive processes
  • Perceptual distortions