Cortisol suppresses the body’s allergic reaction. This is beneficial when fighting or fleeing since dust and other irritants can cause breathlessness, runny nose and eyes and, as a consequence, reduced performance.
Both the alarm response and resistance response operate together to assist the body in defending itself. In persistent, distressful situations we might feel like running away but cannot. Instead we must stay and cope as best we can. This can lead to lengthy periods of cortisol release. On the other hand, when faced with a non-threatening demand that will not go away, we might feel like fighting. However, the nature of the situation may not allow it, so we bottle up our feelings of irritation and anger. This can lead to an overproduction of noradrenaline. Our feelings or emotions can and do affect the activation of the stress response. This is examined next.
Actions of Adrenaline and Noradrenaline
Alert, quick decision-making
Hearing more acute
Lungs: airways dilate, breathing deeper and more rapid
Gut activity slowed, blood supply reduced
Kidneys: reduced urine formation
Blood clots more easily
Skin: sweating and reduced blood flow
Saliva production reduced
Heart beats faster and harder
Fat and glucose mobilized from liver and fat stores
Spleen contracts, pouring red blood cells into the circulation
Adrenal medulla releases adrenaline and noradrenaline
Legs, arms and body wall muscles tense and blood flow increases
Hairs stand erect; goose pimples’
Figure 9 effect of sympathetic-adrenal medulla system activation
Your emotions are revealed in your blood chemistry
To illustrate how our emotions are related to the levels of noradrenaline, adrenaline and cortisol, let us take two situations. A man flying from Heathrow to New York has a blood sample taken just before the flight. The sample was tested for noradrenaline and adrenaline levels. At New York he hired a car to drive downtown. Another blood sample was taken before he drove off and was again tested for noradrenaline and adrenaline levels.
From these results the levels of noradrenaline and adrenaline can be related to the way the man was feeling at the time. Where he was not in control of the situation – a passenger on the plane – his emotions produced the relative levels of adrenaline (high) and noradrenaline (low). Having reached his destination and probably feeling relieved to be on the ground, he got into his car, drove off and felt in control of the driving situation. Once again, his emotions were reflected in the levels of noradrenaline (high) and adrenaline (low). So the level of chemicals associated with the stress response is very much determined by our emotions.