Understanding Stress, Anxiety & Anger

The Stress Process

When faced with a threat the body instinctively gets ready to fight the threat or flee from it. This is known as the “fight or flight” reaction to a threat.

Adrenaline and cortisol are pumped into the blood stream. The pupils of the eyes become dilated in order to see better, the heart quickens to pump blood to the muscles to be ready for action. We become more alert. Blood pressure rises, blood goes to the skin ready to heal any wounds that may be inflicted. Our blood is ready to coagulate to stop bleeding from cuts. This is a very helpful reaction to a real physical threat. 

In dealing with the threat the chemicals released have been “burnt up” by the physical exertion of fleeing or fighting. The body returns to its normal state. 

However today the “trigger” may be an angry motorist, a traffic jam, an angry boss. The “trigger” may be our own thought patterns and worries.

Our body still pumps out the chemicals and produces the same physical reactions but the chemicals do not get used up through the body’s physical action.

Prolonged stress reactions have harmful health effects. The over production of adrenaline may cause heart arrhythmias and high blood pressure. Prolonged stress reactions may cause tiredness, gastric problems, depression, lack of concentration, sleeplessness, general aches and pains. 

The stress process is normal but it is important that stress is balanced with calm. Stress has to be managed, not eradicated.

There are three aspects of stress.

1. The event /  stressor; the stimulus that initiates the stress

2. The mind's assessment / thinking that causes us to believe there is a threat.

3. The physical reaction to the threat.


Managing stress involves addressing all three elements

1. STRESSOR (Stimulus)

The stressor can be something that is 

- a physical threat, eg. a wild animal, dog, snake, an attacker,a threat to our safety etc.

- a psychological threat eg. a threat to relationships, self esteem, status or beliefs.

A threat could be 

- an external object/person/animal, 

- a thought, 

- a situation.


A threat is only a threat if it is assessed as such. 

2. ASSESSMENT (Thinking)

We consider situations/ objects to be threats because of our beliefs, knowledge, understanding. A threat to one person may be a thrill or pleasure to another (eg jumping out of aeroplanes!!)

This is based on our experience or knowledge passed on from others.


A “stimulus” may be perceived as a threat and create stress in one person


Aeroplane:     “it might crash” (Danger of losing your life)
Boss:               “he/she will me look silly” (Danger of losing your integrity)
Doctor Visit     “cardiologist may tell me bad news” (Danger of losing life, mobility, activities)

For another person those situations may be perceived as a pleasure.


Aeroplane:     “place to enjoy sky-diving” (Pleasure)
Boss:               “he/she makes me feel valued” (Boosting self-esteem)
Doctor Visit     “confirm OK to resume skiing” (Get on with life, mobility, activities)

If the situation is assessed as a threat then the body automatically reacts.


When confronted with a threat, the body reacts to prepare to either fight to overcome the threat or to flee from it. The fight/flight process.

In the presence of danger the human body goes into an automatic reaction.

The body triggers

- changes in body chemistry

- a secretion of adrenaline

- a secretion of cortisol and other hormones into the blood stream

This leads to:

- increased alertness

- increased muscular strength and speed

- increased blood pressure

- a faster heart rate

- higher levels of blood fats

- decrease of insulin in the blood

- blood sugar levels rising to provide instant energy to muscles, heart and brain

- increased clotting ability of the blood to stop wounds bleeding

After the exertion of fighting or fleeing the body returns to its normal relaxed state for healing.

Stress is a normal positive process that has enabled us to survive and evolve.


All the above processes are helpful if going into “battle”. However if constantly in a stressed state the build up of chemicals released in the body lead to physical and mental problems.

These problems may include:

- Headaches

- Muscle soreness

- Exhaustion

- Gastric problems

- Lack of concentration

- Sleep difficulties

- Emotional instability

- Anger

- Increased heart rate

- Increased blood pressure

- Hyperventilation

- Blood clotting

(See beyondblue’s list of symptoms in the side panel)

What is the difference between Anxiety and Stress?

Stress arises from:

-                Fear of identifiable things

Anxiety arises from

-                Fear of “unknown or un-stated” things

 The same physical response occurs for stress and anxiety but it also occurs with anger.


Anger is a normal human emotion. We feel anger when we have been offended or not treated fairly. Many people believe life should be "fair". While it may be a belief it is not reality. Fairness has nothing to do with a heart event and yet many people believe it should be.

When our beliefs are challenged, tested or are not confirmed we become angry. If we believe that "good" people deserve to have "good" things happen and not "bad" things then we get angry when that does not occur.

Our physical response to anger is similar to those that occur in stress and anxiety (see above)

See Dealing with Anger by BlackDog Institute

Click Here

See Dealing with Stress by Australian Psychological Society

© Len Gould 2019 Heartemotions (Version V210118)