Stress is fine in small doses–in fact, it’s a natural and necessary hormonal response that encourages your body and mind to activate appropriately when required. We can avoid danger, perform at a high level, maintain sharp focus, and react swiftly to urgent situations all thanks to our quick-acting stress response system.
When functioning normally, the stress response shuts down or “deactivates” automatically. For example, you might be anxious about giving a presentation at work; once it’s over, however, your worries vanish. Your heart may pound before competing in a road race; after crossing the finish line you are quickly able to unwind. If you run a stop sign, it might take a bit of driving before you stop sweating, but you’ll be happily singing to the radio just a few blocks later.
These are examples of how short-term functional stress can help us with performance, attention and safety. Chronic stress is different; it builds up slowly over time. What happens is this: stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) are released, over and over again, in non-threatening situations or by a series of inappropriate triggers. When your autonomic nervous system is activated continuously or repeatedly by “false alarms,” it forgets how and when to turn itself off. A body overloaded with adrenaline and cortisol is a body suffering from chronic stress.