Mental Health

Stress Project: Effective Stress Responses

Fight-or-Flight Response

“A term coined by Walter Cannon; the instinctive physiological responses preparing the body, when confronted with a threat, to either fight or flee; an evolutionary survival dynamic.” (Seaward, 2012)

Step 1:

Stimuli from one or more of the five senses alerts the brain.

Step 2:

The brain decides if the stimulus is a threat.

If it is a threat, the nervous and endocrine systems are activated to quickly prepare to fight or escape.

Step 3:

Body stays activated or ‘on guard’ until the threat is over.

Step 4:

Once the threat is done, the body calms down and returns to normal.

Tend and Befriend

“A theory presented by Shelley Taylor that states that women who experience stress don’t necessarily run or fight, but rather turn to friends to cope with unpleasant events and circumstances.” (Seaward, 2012)
  • Men tend to act more hostile while women tend to be more nurturing.
  • In 2000, a new theory, called Tend and Befriend, was proposed as a missing piece for the female response system.
  • Although both men and women have the instinct to fight-or-flight, women also have a nurturing response and turn to friends for advice and support.
  • Oxytocin (now known as the “trusting hormone” and the “social affiliation hormone”) appears to be the biological basis for this theory.
  • It may actually overrule the stress hormones.
  • Generational social factors may support the tend and befriend theory as well.

Relaxation Response

“The physiological state achieved when one is relaxed; the opposite of the stress reaction; also called the trophotropic response.” (Greenberg, 2013)

Four things that will help you get into this state:

A quiet environment

Go to a room or setting with no distractions or external noises, where you can be completely comfortable.

A mental device

Use an object or tool to focus on and replace other thoughts.

Examples: repetition of a mantra, concentrated breathing, or an object to fiddle with or look at.

A passive attitude

Have an open mind and be open to the idea of relaxation.

A comfortable position

Find a comfortable position.

It is recommended to find a sitting position where most of the body weight is supported.

Sleeping positions should be avoided.

Cognitive Restructuring

“A coping technique; substituting negative, self-defeating thoughts with positive affirming thoughts that change perceptions of stressors from threatening to nonthreatening.” (Seaward, 2012)

Step 1 – Awareness:

  1. Stressors are identified.
  2. Understand why the situation is stressful.
  3. Stressor is assessed, along with the feelings associated with it.

Step 2 – Reappraisal of the Situation:

Re-evaluate the situation and open your mind and generate a different, less negative viewpoint. This viewpoint is either neutral or preferably, positive.

Step 3 – Adoption and Substitution:

Once you have a new perspective on the situation, it must be implemented. Change is not easy, but with practice, it will get easier.

Step 4 – Evaluation:

Evaluate if this new viewpoint is beneficial and effective. If the new mindset is not working, go back to the “Reappraisal of the situation” step.


Greenberg, J. (2013). Comprehensive Stress Management (13th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Seaward, B. (2012). Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Well-Being (7th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Jessica Victoria
<p>Jessica Victoria, 24, is a writer and advocate for mental health, disability and LGBTQ+. She uses her personal experiences and knowledge to help and educate others.</p>

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