chronic stress response

Chronic Stress Response: Everything You Need To Know

Do you live in Ottawa? Do you want to find out more about the chronic stress response?

If so, you are in the right place.

Today I will write about the chronic stress response and its effect on chronic health conditions.

In This Article

Let’s begin by looking at what the chronic stress response is.

What Is The Chronic Stress Response?

Chronic stress negatively affects the function of the body’s systems, organs and tissues.

This body dysfunction happens when hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine are released excessively over time and can lead to chronic illness.

What is the C-A-N Stress Biochemistry?

The release of these three hormones is often nicknamed the “C-A-N” response.

These C-A-N hormones are released to help deal with the emotional and physical stressors of the body.

These hormones increase your strength, concentration and ability to react and respond to stress.

They also increase your heart rate, blood pressure, enhance memory and activate your immune system.

Over time, however, these hormones can cause dysregulation in your body’s systems.

If the stressor is resolved, the levels of these hormones are returned to normal.

Suppose the stressor is unresolved, and the body’s nervous system becomes dysregulated.

In that case, these stress hormones do not return to normal but stay stuck in overdrive or ongoing chronic stress response.

Let’s look at health issues are associated with an ongoing chronic stress response.

What Health Issues Are Associated With A Chronic Stress Response

Health issues related to an ongoing chronic stress response include the following:

Mental Health Issues

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • Trauma

Chronic Infection

  • Lyme Disease
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Long Haul COVID
  • Parasite Infections

Autoimmune Diseases

  • Diabetes
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Psoriasis
  • Multiple Sclerosis


  • Mould Toxicity
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
  • Allergies
  • EMF Sensitivities
  • POTS
  • Chronic Pain/Fibromyalgia
  • Digestives Issues such as IBS.

So, if you suffer from any of these issues, please consider the effects of a chronic stress response.

Remember that a chronic stress response = nervous system dysregulation = chronic illness.

What Are the Stages Of The Chronic Stress Response – General Adaptive Syndrome?

There are three stages of the chronic stress response – general adaptive syndrome including the following:

  1. Alarm reaction stage (Sympathetic activation)
  2. Resistance stage (Ongoing stress)
  3. Exhaustion stage (Ongoing stress)

The Alarm reaction stage (Sympathetic Activation)

The alarm reaction stage refers to the initial symptoms the body experiences when under stress.

This stage is when your sympathetic nervous system is activated and is often called the “fight-or-flight response,” which is a normal physiological response to stress.

This natural reaction prepares you to flee or protect yourself in dangerous situations.

Your heart rate increases, your amygdala sends messages to your limbic system, and your body releases stress C-A-N hormones.

What Should Happen In A Normal Stress Response Recovery Stage?

After the alarm stage, the body should move into a stress response recovery stage.

At this point, after the initial shock, your body begins to heal itself.

The sympathetic nervous system will begin to deactivate, the release of cortisol will slow, and your heart rate and blood pressure diminish.

If the initial stressor resolves, your body continues to repair itself until your hormone levels, heart rate and blood pressure normalize.

At this point, the parasympathetic nervous system engages and helps to bring the body back into a sense of safety and is, and the stress response is now complete.

But what should happen if your brain and nervous system do not return to a sense of safety?

This situation is when the second stage of the chronic stress response occurs.

The Resistance Stage

The body eventually adapts to and learns to live with a higher stress level.

It will feel like you are calming down, but what is happening is something called “stress adaptation.

Your body begins making more cellular hormone receptors to uptake the high level of stress hormones in your blood into the cells.

So, you are still producing the stress hormones but absorbing them intracellularly so you do not feel the underlying flight/fight response as acutely.

At this response, you have entered the chronic stress cycle.

If you suffer from a chronic condition, you may not realize you are stuck in a chronic stress cycle.

When we are stuck in this phase of constantly producing stress hormones, this may result in the onset of Limbic System Impairment, a significant contributing factor to unresolving chronic illness.

When your body gets stuck in an overactive stress response, it continues to secrete the C-A-N hormones.

You may feel you’re managing stress well because your body has adapted to the constant influx of stress hormones.

But, if the resistance stage continues for too long without pauses, it can lead to the exhaustion phase.

The Exhaustion Phase

In this stage, although we are unaware we are stuck in a chronic stress response, our immune functioning becomes dysregulated, and many processes in the body become compromised.

In the exhaustion stage, the body directs more energy and resources to deal with the stress and keep you “safe” rather than regulating your immune system, digestion/microbiome, and endocrine system.

The exhaustion stage is often the result of a combination of the following:

  • A prolonged state of chronically stressful situations both internally and externally.
  • A limbic system impairment of the brain
  • Unresolved past emotional and physical trauma

The exhaustion stage can present with the biochemistry of low C-A-N hormones because of either:

  1. You have developed excessive cellular receptors for C-A-N hormones, which result in lower levels of hormones in the blood.
  2. You cannot continue to produce excessive C-A-N hormones.

Let’s now look at the common signs and symptoms of the exhaustion phase.

Common Signs And Symptoms Of The Exhaustion Phase

The common signs and symptoms of the exhaustion phase include:

  • Fatigue
  • Burnout
  • Overwhelm
  • Freeze response
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Decreased stress tolerance

The physical effects of this stage also weaken your immune system and put you at risk of stress-related illnesses.

Now It’s Over To You

Do you suffer from any conditions associated with a chronic stress response?

Are you unaware that your body might be stressed?

Leave me a comment below.

Do You Need Help?

If you need help, I suggest you book a free functional medicine discovery session with me to determine whether my functional medicine approach fits your child’s needs.


The information provided on this website is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease. Please do not apply this information without first speaking with your doctor.

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