Stress is an inevitable part of life, but it can be overwhelming most of the time. During stress, our body triggers a series of physical and psychological responses aimed at helping us cope with the incoming threat or challenge. Hans Selye, a renowned medical researcher, discovered that our body undergoes three stages during stress; he named it the ‘General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). The initial phase of the stress response plays a crucial role in preparing the body to face perceived threats and is called the alarm stage. This article explores the alarm stage of stress response in depth.

Understanding The Alarm Stage

When faced with a stressful situation, be it physical or psychological, the stress response system in the body is activated. The first stage of the stress response cycle is the alarm stage

During the alarm reaction stage, a distress signal is sent to the brain’s hypothalamus. The hypothalamus then triggers the release of hormones called glucocorticoids. 

These glucocorticoids then trigger the release of other hormones, such as cortisol (also known as the stress hormone) and adrenaline. Adrenaline provides energy, making the heart beat faster and the blood pressure rise. At the same time, blood sugar levels increase. All these changes are aimed at preparing the body for any upcoming threat or danger. 

You may be familiar with the term ‘fight or flight response’, which is the body’s natural response to stress and is important to protect you and help you escape from a dangerous situation. This fight-or-flight response is the result of bodily changes that occur in the alarm stage. 

Here are some bodily changes that occur during the alarm stage

  1. Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are released so that the body feels energised and is prepared for quick action
  2. The nervous system becomes more alert, leading to heightened awareness. Heightened awareness is necessary for evaluating the threat or situation and responding effectively
  3. The heart beats faster during this stage to pump more blood, delivering oxygen and nutrients to vital organs and muscles. This prepares the body for physical exertion and enhances its overall performance.
  4. Other bodily changes, such as tensed muscles, trembling, and dilation of pupils, also occur simultaneously

Let’s understand the alarm stage with an example. Imagine you are in an exam hall about to write a very important exam. You start having symptoms such as a raised heartbeat, trembling, and sweaty palms, and you start feeling jittery. This is probably a sign that your body is in the alarm stage of its stress response.

Why is The Alarm Stage Important?

The fight or flight response in the alarm stage is crucial for our protection. Higher hormone levels at this stage offer benefits by boosting our energy and sharpening our concentration, enabling us to focus on tackling the situation effectively. The alarm stage isn’t harmful if the stressful situation goes away in a short time. However, if the stressor lasts for a long time, the body may enter resistance and exhaustion stages, putting us at risk of various physical and psychological issues.


The alarm stage of stress is a natural and adaptive response that prepares the body to face challenges. While this stage is crucial for survival, chronic activation of the alarm stage can be harmful. Thus, it is key to identify triggers for stress and take steps like relaxation, seeking help, etc to address them so that the body does not go into exhaustion, which is the final stage of the stress response cycle.

Want to read more about the stages of stress? click here to read more on the resistance stage of stress


  1. General adaptation syndrome: What it is, stages, and examples. (2017a, November 28).
  2. General Adaptation Syndrome: Your Body’s Response to Stress. (2017b, May 1). Healthline.
  3. How the Body Reacts to Stress. (n.d.). Verywell Health. Retrieved January 19, 2024, from
  4. What Is General Adaptation Syndrome? (2023, August 28). Psych Central.
Dhruva Koranne

Dhruva Koranne has completed his Masters in Applied Psychology from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, BALM. He has been practicing as a counsellor since 2020 and works to create a safe space for clients where they can open up. In addition to this, Dhruva loves researching and studying about upcoming theories in the field of Psychology. Connect with him on Linkedin