Acute Stress: The Body's Response
Acute stress activates the fight or flight response preparing the body for emergency.
The stress response has positive effects on the body but is also associated with a number of stress-related illnesses.
Have you ever felt your heart pounding before a big race?
Do you break out in a cold sweat at the sound of the dentist’s drill?
What about those butterflies in your stomach or your dry mouth before an important exam or presentation?
These are some of the signs of stress.
Here we talk about the acute stress response, its positive effects on the body, and how this type of stress can cause stress-related illnesses.
What is acute stress?
Imagine you are driving down the road, the windows are down and the sun is shining.
What a great day!
You put on your indicator and look over your shoulder as you are changing lane.
Suddenly a 6 ton truck blasts its horn as it bears down on you.
The screech of tires and the smell of rubber as the truck’s tires grip the road...
In a split second, your fight or flight response is activated.
The muscles, nerves, and glands are mobilized as adrenaline kicks in!
You grip the steering wheel, slam on the breaks, and swerve.
Your heart is pumping and muscles are tensed - all typical symptoms of stress as you narrowly avoid a collision.
This stress response has saved your life!
Your body has put all hands on deck to deal with the life-threatening stress.
This mobilization of the body’s resources occurs whenever the stress response is activated.
This type of stress is intense in nature but short in duration.
Typical examples include:
Acute stress symptoms
In the example above, as the truck sounded its horn and you swerved to avoid a collision, a number of things were going on in your body.
Some of these were:
Adrenaline and noradrenaline are released.
The adrenal glands release adrenaline and noradrenaline maintaining the stress response.
At the same time there are a number of effects of cortisol and stress on the body.
The Stress Response and the Autonomic Nervous System This stress response is the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. After the stressful event the parasympathetic nervous system brings the back to its normal state. This is known as the relaxation response. The relaxation response can be enhanced with these relaxation techniques.
The Stress Response and the Autonomic Nervous System
This stress response is the activation of the sympathetic nervous system.
After the stressful event the parasympathetic nervous system brings the back to its normal state.
This is known as the relaxation response.
The relaxation response can be enhanced with these relaxation techniques.
How does stress affect health?The stress response serves an important function.
In the past, the caveman who narrowly escaped the jaws of a saber-toothed tiger, thanks to the stress response lived another day.
In the traffic example above, without the stress response your reaction may have been slower and you may not have slammed on the brakes or swerved in time to avoid a collision.
The stress response helps us to fight, flee, or adapt to the causes of stress. In most cases it serves a positive function. After the period of stress the body returns to its normal state.
However, acute stress can become a problem when:
Related stress management articles
Eustress: Not All Types of Stress are Bad for You
Physical Effects of Stress The Warning Signs and Symptoms of Stress
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