Acute Stress versus Long-Term Stress

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Acute Stress versus Long-Term Stress

is a part of modern life. The way we live is, at some level, unnatural. We did not evolve in large cities with huge populations. We had no conception of work, let alone working for others. There were no possessions. Money was unheard of. It was, in some ways, a quiet and peaceful world. However, that’s not to say that our for bearers lived in an Eden. Far from it. The world they inhabited was harsh. Death was a constant companion. Life was short. To survive, they had to either fight to live or flee to survive. There was no other choice.

This fight or flee reaction is still with us today. Our reaction to what we perceive as danger is what causes stress. As we all know, too much stress is not a good thing. It can cause serious health issues, both mentally and physically. What a lot of people don’t know is that there is a good type of stress and a bad type of stress.

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Good stress, also known as acute stress, occurs when we do actually encounter a life threatening situation. Imagine that you’re on a walk in the woods. You come around a bend in the path that you’ve been following and right in front of you is a bear. As soon as your brain registers the sight of the bear, a couple of things begin to happen. First your body releases a number of chemicals, among them cortisol, dopamine and adrenaline. The cortisol increases you alertness and sense of fear. The dopamine enhances your memory so that you will remember this event for future avoidance. The adrenaline increases your heart rate and breathing rate so that your muscles have plenty of oxygen if you need to fight or run.

Once the danger has passed, you quickly return to your normal state. So why is acute stress considered good? Well, it just helped you survive a potentially dangerous encounter with a bear. Sure, you were shook up. However, you have lived to tell the tale and that’s the point of the stress reaction.

A problem arises when the stress that you face can’t be fought or outrun. When your body mistakes your lousy boss or demanding as life-threatening situations it’s like you’re facing a bear in the woods every single day. Under these circumstances, you don’t ever have time to relax and return to a normal state. This is what is considered bad, or long-term stress.

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