The homeostatic nervous system shifts depending on the stressor event that you have been exposed to. It all starts with a feeling of being unsure or being afraid. It is important to understand the types of stress you experience.
‘Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom ‘– Aristotle
Acute stress is the stress you experience on a daily basis from (minor) situations that you experience. It usually comes in bursts and fades once the situation has passed. Think about situations that may cause acute stress such as traffic jams, running late, argument with a loved one, impending deadlines for work-related projects.
Acute stress leads to shortness of breaths and rapid breathing. The endocrine system increases its production of steroid hormones, which include cortisol, to activate the stress response of the body (Chu, 2022). You may not realize this, but stress can also have an effect on your digestion, how and what nutrients your intestines absorb and how quickly food moves through your bowels (Chu, 2022).
Many people recover from acute stress disorder once they are removed from the traumatic situation and given appropriate support in the form of understanding, empathy for their distress, and an opportunity to describe what happened and their reaction to it (Barnhill, 2023). Breathing exercises are great for tackling acute stress, because it can give an immediate effect. A mini-meditation of 5 minutes can help you calm down in the moment.
Let’s make acute stress ‘a-cute’ again!
The other type of stress reaction we would like to mention is chronic stress – stress that is experienced over a prolonged period of time, which triggers maladaptive behaviours. Maladaptive behaviour is behaviour that prevents you from making adjustments that are in your own best interest (Pietrangelo, 2020). The consistent and ongoing increase in heart rate, and the elevated levels of stress hormones and of blood pressure, can take a toll on the body. You can recognize it different behaviours like withdrawal, avoidance, anger, passive-aggressiveness, self-harm, binge eating, substance abuse, anxiety. This long-term ongoing stress can increase the risk for hypertension, heart attack, or stroke.
You can think of coping with maladaptive stress in different ways such as going in a ‘Fight or Flight’ response or ‘Freezing’. The most important thing is to be aware of how to manage it. Some strategies can include:
- Eating healthy foods
- Setting realistic goals
- Learning time management techniques
- Building stress reduction skills
- Making time for leisure activities
- Maintaining a healthy social support network
- Engaging in regular physical exercise
- Getting an adequate amount of sleep each night
- Learning and practicing mindfulness (to control attention)
A licensed professional can help you identify the challenges and stressors that affect your daily life and find ways to help you best cope for improving your overall physical and mental well-being.