Knowing the difference between acute (sudden) or chronic (on-going) stress is a key to knowing what to do to relieve the stress.
Acute stress is the ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction to an immediate, unexpected stressor.
During acute stress, the unexpected event occurs, your body releases the correct stress hormones, you operate at a higher energy level, and then when the crisis is over, you seek out the first chance you can to relax. Stress hormones dissipate and your body resets to calmness and clarity.
Some examples of acute stress:
- Seeing a child run into a busy street
- Hearing a loud noise behind you (or even in front of you)
- A phone call about an emergency situation
- Being called on to speak unexpectedly
- A highly verbal irritated customer
- Being pulled out of the airport security line for extensive screening
- Learning that you have no credit left on your credit card
- A new romantic interest unexpectedly walks up to you
- Winning the lottery
- Waiting for the final free throw of a basketball game when the score is tied
The body can deal with acute stress in small doses. However, prolonged bouts of acute stress are taxing on the nervous system and create wear-and-tear on the body. Rational thinking often becomes distorted thinking, and the rate of accidents and mistakes increases as a result of too much acute stress.
Chronic stress is prolonged stress.
Your body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ response is always ‘on’, taking a toll on your immune system and making you prone to illness. The high level of stress hormones make it difficult to think clearly and you experience knee-jerk emotional reactions to almost everything.
And you feel powerless to make changes in the situations that lead to chronic stress. There seems to be no hope for the future — no light at the end of the ‘stress’ tunnel.
Some extreme situations that produce chronic stress include:
- Being homeless
- No perceived power in relationships or job
- Dysfunctional families or primary relationships
- Trapped in a despised job or career
However, for most people, chronic stress is produced by a continuous build-up of acute stresses, without time for the rest and relaxation that calm and soothe the body.
Some examples of modern chronic stress:
- Too much to do, too many commitments
- Too little sleep
- Working longer and longer hours with little or no reward
- Disorganized living and work environments
- Financial problems without a solution in sight
- Fear of losing a job or a loved one
- Prolonged illness (yours or a family member’s)
The first step in managing modern chronic stress is to raise your awareness about its costly effects: poor health, tense or broken relationships, discouraging work, financial challenges, reduced personal well-being. Is that the experience you want of life?
In our quickly changing world, it’s more important than ever to make stress-relieving activities a high priority.
Make time every single day to relax, refresh, and re-energize.
When you practice stress relief for a few moments after each acute stress you encounter, you reduce the likelihood of becoming chronically stressed.
What stress relief methods do you turn to after acute stress?