Acute and Chronic Stress: Tools to get Relief
Imagine Yourself in this Situation
You are driving to Mass and the traffic light for Ocean Ave has turned green. As you turn onto Ocean Ave, from the corner of your eye you see a young girl riding her bike into the crosswalk. You slam on the brakes and barely avoid hitting her! Your heart is racing, and your hands are sweaty and shaking. Once you park in the St. Pius lot you think about what just happened and get angry at the young girl. However, as you start to recover a bit you now see this as a grace from God that allowed you to prevent a tragic accident. You have just been through a bout of acute stress.
Situational Stress and De-Stressing from it
Most species experience stress and also have systems for “de-stress” . Stress can be physical or emotional, but either type releases a chemical from your brain called acetylcholine, which in turn causes release of adrenaline from your adrenal glands (brain/body connection). This activates the fight/flight response of increased heart rate and increased blood flow. Acute stress in certain situations can be good, since it activates your immune system for fighting infections. However, in the above situation of avoiding hitting the young girl on her bike, we need a way to stop the stress response. The fastest way has been demonstrated to occur when you do a double inhale through your nose followed by a vigorous exhale through pursed lips. Repeating this 4-5 times should bring your stress under control by causing the release of serotonin which induces a feeling of calmness.
Chronic Stress is Different
Chronic stress is a more serious problem. It can last for months or even years. This type of stress has been linked to depression, heart disease, hypertension, stroke and the development of certain types of cancer.
A lack of social connections, not virtual, but in person, stimulates chronic stress and reinforces its longevity. The major instigator is the release of cortisol, a steroid hormone. Bringing chronic stress under control is a more difficult proposition. One route is to try some natural compounds. My sources for this column are listed at the end so you can get more information if you wish. (It’s always a good idea to check with your health care provider to avoid anything that could be counterproductive to any other treatment.)
Another approach for chronic stress is trying meditation and self-awareness. If you are unaware of the thoughts from your mind, they will own you! You cannot stop these negative thoughts so just notice them and move on. This is called self-awareness and the more you practice this type of meditation the better you get. You can ask God and Jesus to help you in this practice. At the end of your day think about the most vivid negative emotion you had that day. Say what you thought out loud and analyze your feelings. Then say: “I am alive and well. I will not waste my time on this thought. Tomorrow I will show love to other people in the name of Jesus”.
Thanks to Dick Niles, one of our leaders for RCIA and Emeritus Professor and former Associate Dean of Biomedical Sciences at the Joan C Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University. The intent of these columns is to provide information about how to improve your life by addressing physical and spiritual situations that might be impeding your peace, happiness and sense of fulfillment. Also, there will be useful tips on achieving academic success for undergrads and grad students at our local Universities.
1. Huberman Lab podcast, March 8, 2021 “Master Stress: Tools for Managing Stress and Anxiety”
2. On Purpose-Jay Shetty podcast, Oct 23, 2020 “Techniques to Cope with Anxiety and Feel More Centered throughout Your Day
3. How to Build a Happy Life Oct 5, 2021 Arthur Brooks “How to be Self-Aware” podcast the neuroscience of emotional management.