HEALTHY LIVING
08/24/2011 08:40 am ET Updated Oct 24, 2011

How The Earthquake Upped Your Stress (And Why That's OK)

By YouBeauty.com Editors

The East Coast experienced an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.8 centered near Richmond, Va., at 1:51 p.m. EST on Tuesday.

If you were anywhere in the band from Boston to Charlotte, N.C. who felt the earthquake, you've experienced stress, whether you realize it or not. "When the rocks beneath our feet become unstable, then it shakes us both mentally and physically," says YouBeauty psychology expert Art Markman, Ph.D.

Many coped with their stress publicly. "The large number of jokes flying around Facebook and Twitter were signs of people's stress. It is good to laugh at times like this," says Markman. "After experiencing an earthquake, you might feel some stress for a few days."

More From YouBeauty:
Meditate for Stress Relief
Feeling Stressed? Take This Quiz for Feedback on Your Best Way to Cope
Stress, Health and Beauty Don't Mix

It could also turn you on. (Earthquake babies, anyone?)

"A little safe stress like this can also increase arousal, so don't be surprised if passions ignite in the days after an earthquake," says Markman.

Here's what happened in your body: The earthquake triggered your stress response, making your brain and hormones move quickly. First, your hypothalamus, an almond-sized control center deep within your brain, sent messages to your adrenal glands. These glands then sent cortisol (the "stress hormone") and adrenaline, the chemical messenger that causes you to jump when someone surprises you, through your bloodstream. The hormones pull sugar from your liver and fatty acids from your fat cells to push your muscles into action.

As the stress cascade continued, your heart raced, your breath shortened and your pupils dilated. The adrenaline probably squashed your appetite so you can concentrate.

Finally, stress hormones help your brain take photograph-like pictures of what's happening at that very instant -- perhaps so you will never forget it.

Your body's stress response is perfectly natural, as hardwired as feeling hungry or tired. The fight-or-flight response helped our ancestors run from tigers and survive famines.

And it helps us react to potentially serious situations. In this case, an earthquake.