When you hear the word ‘stress’ or ‘stressed’, we tend to identify it as a generally
negative state to be in. For most, it means being physically, mentally and or
emotionally overwhelmed. For obvious reasons, this is not good. However, when you really look into the science of stress, you will come to realise that there are 2 types of stress which have very different effects on the body; Acute stress and chronic stress.
Acute Vs. Chronic
Acute stress tends to be short-lived lasting no longer than approximately 6-12 weeks at the very most. However, chronic stress lasts longer than 6-12 weeks and this is where the effects can be dangerous. However, this blog intends to focus on acute stress and the actual benefits of being in an acutely stressful situation.
#1 Acutely stressful situations can help you in tough times
Being in an acutely stressful situation does not feel great. Due to our differences, we all cope in different ways, however, we tend to see a number of consistent
pathophysiological effects from acute stress. For example, when really pushing
yourself during exercise and you begin to notice your breathing getting harder,
muscles starting to burn and the negative self-talk running rampant in your mind
some of us may give up, but then ever wondered why we tend to keep going... The
majority of this stems from the release of a hormone called cortisol which causes a
cascade of biochemical reactions. The release of cortisol is followed by
adrenaline/noradrenaline which stimulates the breakdown of glucose – most
people’s primary energy source – resulting in a rise in blood flow to the muscles,
rise in heart rate, rise in respiratory rate and increased blood pressure. This whole
chain has been coined as the fight-or-flight phenomenon. These adaptations actually help you get through the tough period – in this case exercise – as your body perceives the acutely stressful situation and is coping by adapting.
Similarly, its why when some of us leave tasks (assignments, projects, deadlines) to
the last minute, we experience a surge of energy to complete the task. The situation
creates anxiety because we perceive the time constraint as an acutely stressful
situation. Consequently, the threat of not passing or having to repeat the process
again poses as a great risk to our future plans so again, pathophysiologically, we
experience an increased heart rate, dilated pupils and an increase in the amount of
glucose utilized as energy which all contribute to a heightened level of focus enabling you to immediately pursuit on with the task in spite of a great lack of sleep.
#2 Overcoming acute stress prepares you for everything
Exposing yourself to controlled doses of acute stress will make you indestructible in
the toughest of physical and psychological situations. Remaining unflappable
throughout life’s trials is an impressive feat of strength. For example, choosing to
take cold showers despite the great discomfort, highlights that you value to long term benefits over the valueless short-lived comfort. Additionally, overcoming the safe trauma of cold showers actually rewires your psychological state and makes you realise that things in life could actually be a lot worse. As a consequence, the
cultivated energy from this 2-minute act translates into a day of hyper-focused and
productivity enabling you to inch ever closer towards your dreams and goals. As you being to become a master at exposing yourself to small and acute bouts of highly stressful situations, your baseline level of what you perceive as stressful develops more and more through becoming more tolerant of stress. Consequently, where you would have once coped in a stressful situation, over time you will learn the thrive in that same situation. But don’t just take my word for it, try it and see how it works for you.
Summary: Acutely stressful situations in a safe and controlled manner can contribute towards the enhancement and development of one’s self. The pathophysiological adaptations prime us to cope with being in the situation. Over time, exposure to short bouts of stressful situations enables you to thrive under stress as you have learnt to cope effectively. However, this is in stark contrast to the effects of prolonged stress which is greatly harmful and detrimental towards overall health.