Stress Response and Overwhelm

Our bodies response to stress

Our bodies respond to stress with physiological changes such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones, with a return to baseline when the stressor is removed. A positive stress response is a normal stress response. Positive stress responses are infrequent, short-lived, and mild. Tolerable stress responses are more severe, frequent or sustained. The body responds to a greater degree. Examples include divorce or the death of a loved one. Toxic stress that is severe or prolonged can result in an ongoing stress response with a failure to normalize (1). We experience repetitive shocks to the mind and body that occur under the radar of conscious awareness. Over time the body becomes habituated to chronic over- stimulation and simultaneous exhaustion. We become wired and tired.

Stress Response

Recognizing our reactions is the first step to compassion for ourselves (and others). From this place of understanding and self-compassion, we can begin to understand what is causing our overwhelm, ease the burden, and work to change what is within our control. 


Click to download body template.

Click to download body template.

  • Think of a specific time when you were impacted by the work you are doing.

  • Where were you? Who was there with you?

  • What words can you use to describe the emotions you were feeling?

  • Where did it show up in your body?

  • Draw on the body where it showed up. Click here for a body exercise template. 

Recognizing overwhelm

Paying attention to our sense of overwhelm will help us to ease the burden of overwhelm, restore our perspective, and take action (2).

  1. What does my OVERWHELM look like?
  2. What is currently CAUSING it?
  3. What are the perceived or actual BARRIERS for tending to my overwhelm?
  4. Make informed CHOICES


  1. Franke, H. A. (2014). Toxic Stress: Effects, Prevention and Treatment. Children1(3), 390–402. Click here to download this resource. 
  2. The Trauma Stewardship Institute -