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Chronic Stress vs Acute Stress

Let’s take a closer look at stress.

Last week I asked the rhetorical question: Should we spend our time minimizing stress or harnessing it for our benefit?

The answer to both is YES!

Here is why:

Stress can in fact deplete us if it is allowed to dominate our lives. Stress can make us stronger and more resilient if we learn what good stress is and how to work with it.

Chronic Stress <——-> Acute Stress

If stress is inevitable, why not use it for our benefit?

I’ll assume you are all too familiar with the negative, chronic, never ending hassles of daily life that produce the neurological reflexes of anxiety, weight gain, poor sleep, and a whole host of life depleting behaviors and emotions. These reflexes grow stronger if they are activated often. The brain will create patterns of thought and behavior based on this chronic stress that gets reinforced. If left unchecked we become the classic stress case that people avoid. You know these people. And so do I.

The fight or flight response that is built into our nervous system is a survival mechanism and is normal and a good thing. This response needs to be activated regularly, to keep us healthy, but not for long periods of time. How often is our survival actually in question? Not very often. How often is this fight or flight response activated for long periods of time, say weeks and months and often years? Way too often. When this reflex is allowed to dominate our thoughts and behaviors for too long, injury, sickness, and ultimately depletion of life ensues.

Have you ever met someone who is sick all the time? Or stressed out all the time? Or always in a hurry? Or always right? Bingo. A chronic stress pattern is in play and needs to be address and broken; minimized.

Chronic stress, if recognized, can and should be minimized. You know the drill. Breathe. Realize nothing is chasing you. Realize that your survival is not being challenged. Turn around and look, is anything chasing you? Breathe some more.


Aha, but not all stress is created equal.

So let us say you get a handle on the above mentioned reflexive, deadly stress pattern. Perfect. Let’s say that the above mentioned fight or flight system needs to be activated regularly for our health, but not too often and for not too long. The cortisol bath that our cells endure is overrated. But purposely activating this stress response is doable.

Here is how to get the benefits of stress:

Engage stress intentionally in short, acute, episodes.

That’s right, be intentional.

Create stress for yourself. Our bodies and brains like variety. They actually like variability. Predictability leads to depletion. Mix it up for Pete’s sake. Challenge yourself. I’m not, however, advocating picking a fight with your spouse, or running a marathon, or eating 12 donuts! Those are acute stressors no one needs.

This summer we will be exploring Chronic, life depleting habits and how to replace them with Acute bouts of stress that are life producing.

Next week, exercise. What is the difference between chronic exercise patterns, and acute exercise patterns?

I’ll be in touch.



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