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"Perhaps the way to handle stress is to give yourself permission to spend equal amounts of time thinking about how to enjoy yourself. If you've spent 10 minutes worrying about what you haven't done, spend the next 10 minutes thinking about some fabulous thing you can do for yourself or with your friends and family." Loretta LaRoche, Stress Humorist, Patriot Ledger, Copyright 2002

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For more information on mind/body medicine, you may contact Director of Communications Barbara Sherlock at 617.643.6043 or You can also contact our senior director, Marilyn Wilcher, at 617.643.6035 or

In survey after survey, Americans today identify stress as their number one health concern. More than 50% of adults in the U.S. report high stress on a daily basis. Untreated, stress can seriously affect health, work performance, relationships, and general well-being.

At the BHI we don't advocate stress elimination, or even reduction, because who of us can realistically eradicate stress from our lives? (Well, maybe if we lie on a beach now and again!) But we do offer a number of ways to help you access the relaxation response and manage your daily stress. If you believe that your health problems are stress related, we can help you with an array of programs and services.

The Stress Response

Stress is the term used to define the body's automatic physiologic reaction to circumstances that require behavioral adjustments.

Also called the fight-or-flight response, as identified by Dr. Walter B. Cannon of the Harvard Medical School almost one hundred years ago, it a profound set of involuntary physiological changes that occur whenever we are faced with a changing situation. This response, critical to the survival of primitive humankind, prepares the body for a physical reaction to a threat - to fight or flee. Confronted by this threat - physical or emotional, real or imagined - the hypothalamus causes the sympathetic nervous system to release epinephrine and norepinephrine (also known as adrenaline and noradrenaline) and other related hormones. When released into the body, these messengers propel you into a state of arousal.

When under stress:

  • Your metabolism increases
  • Your heart beats faster and your musclese tense
  • Your breathing becomes shallow and you start to perspire
  • The flow of blood to your internal organs and extremities decreases
  • The fuctioning of your immune and digestive systems is inhibited

The stress response is useful and can be necessary in time of emergency, but the frequent or unrelenting triggering of the stress response in our modern life without a balancing relaxation response can contribute to a number of illnesses and symptoms.

Stress and Performance

Stress can be, and often is, beneficial. Harvard's Robert M. Yerkes, M.D. and John D. Dodson, M.D. first described the relation between stress and performance in 1908. At appropriate levels, stress increases both efficiency and performance. For example, before an athletic event, competitors involuntarily elicit the stress response. Before an examination, students exhibit increased heart rate and blood pressure. Similarly, in today's high-powered competitive environment, the stimulus of the stress response/ fight-or-flight response is often essential to success. As stress and/or anxiety increase, so do performance and efficiency.

However, this relationship does not continue indefinitely in this fashion. When situations produce excessive stress, a threshold is exceeded. This stress overload is associated with diminishing performance and efficiency. This relationship is known as the Yerkes Dodson Law.

This article was provided by Mind/Body Medical Institute.
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