Stress Hormones, HPA Axis, And The Stress Response

Discover how stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline impact your health long-term. Learn how to manage stress for a healthier life.
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Feeling stressed out? You’re not alone. Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are your body’s response to tension. They act fast but can impact your health long-term.

We’re here to help you understand these hormones and how they affect you 12. By the end of this, you’ll know more about your body’s stress response and how to better handle it for a healthier life.

Key Takeaways

  • Stress hormones play a vital role in our body’s response to stressful situations.
  • High-stress events can cause adrenal glands to produce up to 10x normal cortisol levels.
  • Understanding this underscores the importance of managing stress for maintaining our health.
  • Stress management is essential not only for mental well-being but also for bodily health.
  • Taking steps to manage your stress effectively can contribute significantly to a healthier you.

This blog is part of a series on “what is stress?“. The next blog is about the impact of stress on the nervous system.

Stress Hormones and Their Functions

Let’s dive into the pivotal role stress hormones play in our body’s response to stress. When we’re under stress, our body produces several hormones, primarily cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These are adrenal gland hormones that trigger our body’s ‘fight or flight’ stress response.

Cortisol helps our bodies handle stressful situations. It helps us stay focused, alert, and cope during high-stress situations. It also aids in metabolism and inflammation control, helping our bodies return to normal after stress has passed.

Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, prepares our bodies for immediate action. It increases our heart rate, blood pressure, and energy supplies. It’s the hormone that gives us the ‘adrenaline rush’ during emergencies.

Norepinephrine works closely with epinephrine. It also boosts our heart rate and blood pressure, but it’s particularly involved in directing blood flow to the places that need it most, like our muscles and brain.

Understanding these hormones’ functions is crucial. Whether we are looking for personal relief or simply caring individuals, knowing how the body responds to stress can help us better support those in stressful situations. It’s all about empathy and understanding.

To fully grasp our body’s response to stress, we need to understand the key components of the endocrine system involved in this process. Two significant components are the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the adrenal glands. They play a crucial role in stress response physiology.

The HPA axis function involves coordinating our body’s response to stress. When we’re stressed, our HPA axis prompts the adrenal glands to release hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine. The adrenal glands’ function is to mobilize our body’s resources, preparing us for ‘fight or flight’.

Cortisol, known as the ‘stress hormone’, helps maintain fluid balance and blood pressure, while suppressing the immune system. Epinephrine (adrenaline) increases heart rate, blood pressure, and energy supplies. Here’s a simplified overview:

HPA AxisCoordinates body’s stress response
Adrenal GlandsRelease hormones in response to stress
Cortisol HormoneMaintains fluid balance and blood pressure
Epinephrine HormoneIncreases heart rate and energy supplies
Stress hormones and their function

Stress Response Mechanisms and Symptoms

When we’re dealing with stress, our bodies kick into high gear, showing a range of physical and psychological symptoms. This is known as the stress response.

Stress response examples are numerous, but they generally revolve around the production of cortisol stress hormones and other HPA axis hormones. The symptoms can be especially pronounced in females, where high cortisol levels can cause a range of distressing symptoms. These symptoms of high cortisol levels in females can include:

  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Fatigue and difficulty sleeping
  • Mood swings and anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Physical symptoms like headaches or digestive problems

We need to recognize these symptoms so that we can take steps to manage our stress levels. This might mean incorporating stress-reducing activities into our daily routines or seeking professional help if symptoms persist.

Testing for Stress Hormone Disorders

Understanding stress hormones involves not only recognizing the symptoms of high cortisol levels but also knowing how to test for disorders related to these hormones. Recognizing high cortisol symptoms, such as anxiety, weight gain, and difficulty sleeping, can help us identify potential issues and seek help quickly.

To confirm suspicions of adrenal gland disorders, a cortisol test may be necessary. This test measures the level of cortisol in our bodies, helping us detect any abnormalities. Additionally, we should be aware of HPA axis dysfunction symptoms, including chronic fatigue, mood swings, and poor focus, as this disorder is closely linked to stress hormone imbalances.

Methods such as regular exercise, a healthy diet, and sufficient sleep can significantly lower cortisol levels. But remember, it’s not just about lowering cortisol; it’s about balancing all stress hormones.

Managing the Impact of Stress Hormones

Having armed ourselves with the knowledge of stress hormones and their effects, it’s now crucial that we focus on managing these hormones and fully grasping their impact on our overall health.

Cortisol function, a pivotal part of our stress response, can be misunderstood. But we must clear up this confusion. A high cortisol level could mean chronic stress, leading to HPA-axis suppression – a harmful condition. This is why understanding what raises cortisol levels and how to reduce it is essential in maintaining our health.

So, let’s look at some key strategies:

  • Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation to manage stress and lower cortisol levels.
  • Maintain a balanced diet rich in whole foods and low in processed items, as diet can influence cortisol.
  • Regular physical activity is beneficial in managing stress hormones.
  • Prioritize good sleep as lack of rest can increase cortisol levels.
  • The use of certain supplements, as recommended by healthcare professionals, can help manage cortisol.
Supplements for cortisol management - professional guidance
Supplements for cortisol management – professional guidance


Stress hormones are crucial in how our bodies react to stress. Did you know that in a high-stress event, our adrenal glands can make up to 10 times the typical amount of cortisol? Understanding this shows us why keeping stress in check is vital for our health.

It’s not just about feeling relaxed; it’s also about maintaining our body’s complex stress response system. If you’re seeking stress relief, consider this: managing your stress isn’t just good for your mind; it’s essential for your body too.


  1. Understanding the stress response – Harvard Health[]
  2. Stress and hormones – PMC ([]
Alex Reijnierse
Alex Reijnierse

Alex Reijnierse is a stress management expert with over a decade of experience in helping individuals effectively manage and reduce stress. He holds a Master of Science (MSc) and has a background in high-pressure environments, which has given him firsthand experience in dealing with chronic stress.