How to Know When Your Stress Switch is “On”


How to identify your stress response

Once upon a time, humans needed the energy generated by stress to survive. We were hunting, farming, or fighting the elements. The body’s stress response would switch to “on” and provide a spike of “fight or flight” cortisol and adrenaline to complete the task at hand. When the task was complete, the stress spike would fade off.

Today, we don’t have to “fight or fly,” but we’re still put into stressful situations that consume our day. According to this article in the Miami Herald, the American Psychological Association states that chronic stress is related to the 6 leading causes of death.  Long rush hours, tense workdays, and multiple family activities mean that our body’s stress switch is always on. Our body thinks it is constantly under attack. We don’t get to rest, which takes a toll in the form of anxiety, high blood pressure, and other “dis-eases” of the body.

I know this was true for me in my life.  I made a lot of changes in my thirties toward better health and wellbeing, but the effects of stress were a critical piece of the puzzle. Not only was I constantly stressed, but I was also suffering from post-traumatic stress after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My body had been pushed to its limits.  As I began to manage my stress level through mind-body practices, my state of health began to improve dramatically. 

So how do we flip the stress switch to “off?” First, we have to recognize when we are stressed. Here are some tips on how to read your body’s stress level:


How often do you have a headache? What triggers them? Chronic pain can mean that you’re not able to offload stress. If you’re reaching for headache relief on a daily basis, stress could be the culprit.

Dry mouth

Does your mouth get dry and uncomfortable when you’re anxious? When your stress switch flips on, your body stops making saliva.  A chronic dry mouth may mean that stress is at fault.

Sleep problems

How much sleep do you get each night? How often do you wake up and can’t get back to sleep? Insomnia doesn’t give your body the release it needs to recharge. Lack of sleep can cause issues in the body to accumulate.

Increased frequency of colds

How many colds have you had this year? Constant stress takes a toll on your immune system. The stress trigger takes over and the immune system can’t fight off infection.

Chronic fatigue

How often during the day do you feel fatigued to the point that you have to take a break? If you’re always tired, it could be that stress is weighing you down. Constant cortisol and adrenaline spikes take a toll on your body.

Extremes in appetite

Do you stress-eat? Or do you turn away from food when you’re anxious? Depending on our emotional response to food, you can react to stress by overeating, or not eating enough, to sustain your body.

Joint or back stiffness

Do you reach for a cold or heat pack at the end of the day? Tension can create a rigid body. If you’re experiencing soreness in your back or in your joints, it could be a manifestation of stress.

Stomach troubles

How often do you take antacids? That lunchtime hamburger may not be the source of your upset stomach. Stress can create turmoil in the digestive system, too.

Shallow breathing

Are you a shallow breather? The fight or flight response quickens your breath. If you’re experiencing sustained stress, you may not be able to draw a full breath, which minimizes the oxygen going to your brain.  

Do you want to learn how to turn off that stress switch? My next post will explore techniques that will help you cope. If you have more questions, ask them here, or visit Healthy Living With Hope on Instagram or Facebook