Acute Stress is Helpful…
Chronic Stress is Harmful
Of course, the key to successful management of stress is recognizing acute stress from chronic stress. So many things stress us during the average day that it is hard to be aware of when acute stress becomes chronic stress. Webster defines acute in this context as “characterized by sudden onset…and lasting a short time.” Webster gives 136 synonyms and antonyms of acute. The word, acute, comes from the Latin word, acutus, meaning sharpened, pointed, having a violent onset, and less than a 90-degree angle. If your nervous system is healthy, it redresses itself when the acute stress is over and is better off for the process in many cases.
On the other hand, the meaning of chronic according to Mr. Webster is “continuing for a long time or returning often.” Of interest, there are only 41 synonyms of the word, chronic. In medical care, an illness that lasts more than 90 days is considered chronic. The Greek root of chronic is time. The psychological context of chronic stress is more like habitual, returning often.
The difference between Helpful and Harmful is based on how successful the person is at managing their stress. If a person is in a chronically stressful situation, good management has to include frequent breaks during which you can clear your mind, think, and do something relaxing and happy-making before returning to the stressful situation either in your mind or in action.
So, there really are two important keys involved in keeping stress from becoming harmful: 1) Learn how to recognize when you are in stress. 2) Learn how to best manage your stress to keep it acute (i.e., by taking frequent breaks) and finding things you can do that are relaxing. Or, if your stress primarily comes from your mind and the fact that you have a busy mind and your mind seldom or never shuts off, then finding a way to clear your mind long enough to reduce the body’s stress reaction.
Sadly, many of us tend to deny that we are under stress, therefore failing to recognize it. There are so many triggers and situations that produce the stress hormones, but none are as present as our mind and thinking. Do you remember those childhood years when an adult might have said: “What were you thinking?” And, the response was truthfully, “Nothing!”
Well, for most of us, those days are long gone. That is why the technique that is now called, Mindfulness, is sweeping the world. It is easy to do for anyone and if done often enough it will produce the desired result of a peaceful, quiet mind. Mindfulness only takes a minute or two to do and the only thing most people have to do is sit back, close your eyes, focus on your breathing, and spend a quiet, mindful minute or two. Try it right now. It only takes a minute. Your To Do List can wait a moment.