Types of stress.
When we hear the word stress we automatically think, oh no, stress is bad. This is not always the case.
There are two different types of stress that I am going to cover here – ACUTE STRESS and CHRONIC STRESS.
Acute stress, is the type of stress that is triggered from quick surprises, requiring quick responses. Acute stress doesn’t burden our minds and bodies too drastically if we find ways to revert to homeostasis (a state of balance/equilibrium) quickly.
Applied with the correct dose, as nature intended, acute stress can make us faster, stronger and even aid our longevity of life.
Chronic stress is the type of stress that builds up over a prolonged period of time, taking a heavy toll our minds and bodies. We often feel that this type of stress is uncontrollable, making us feel physically drained, mentally ill and, over time, can even lead to death.
How can acute stress be beneficial?
Primitive man had to deal with a lot of harsh conditions and this meant that his body and mind had to adapt, hence the phrase “adapt or die.”
He would have had to adapt to extreme temperatures, weather conditions, pain, hunger, thirst, physical and mental exertion; not to mention the threat from other animals and humans.
As early man adapted to such stress, he improved and became better mentally and physically. We are the result of these adaptations.
Throughout our development from primate to human we have had to develop survival tactics. Just one example of this is the fight, flight or freeze response. Such developments have been implemented over thousands of years of evolution.
The fight, flight or freeze response has specifically enabled us to escape quicker, fight better or become unnoticed, by temporarily shutting down all the systems that were not directly needed in immediate, life-threatening situations.
The body would literally shut down the reproductive, growth, digestive and immune systems to enhance our cognitive performance and musculoskeletal efficiency.
As we have progressed as a species such threats have diminished, resulting in us being too blessed to be stressed…
Too blessed to be stressed
Even early man didn’t want to be cold, hungry or wet so he/she found ways to combat these conditions. From wearing clothes, shoes and making shelters, to farming, building houses, creating central heating and inventing telephones to order from the local takeaway.
As time has passed, acute stress, otherwise known as “hormetic stress,” has reduced so much that we tend to avoid any form of discomfort.
We have gone from one extreme to the other; unfortunately, to the detriment of our overall well-being – physical, mental and spiritual.
If we wish to remain fit, strong, healthy humans in today’s world, we need to apply hormetic stressors and continue to develop as our ancestors did.
One form of hormetic stress, that you can expose yourself to cheaply and safely, is cold exposure…
Cold exposure as a hormetic stressor, the benefits and how to apply it.
Cold exposure can be done in several ways so pick one that suits you, your schedule and your budget.
Cold showers and cold water dousing have been used for many years by many different cultures. It was even promoted by Florence Nightingale but, as always, please consult your doctor before committing to something like this!
As with many practices, from exercises to diets, there is always a danger of injury and/or illness, so make smart decisions and find practices that work best for you!
Stay safe, have fun and live healthily!
The benefits of cold exposure
- Helps with relaxation (in everyday life – see below)
- Helps with stress and depression
- Increases circulation
- Lowers blood pressure and heart rate (in everyday life – see below)
- Strengthens the immune system
- Increases alertness
- Stimulates glandular activity
- Increases blood count
- Stimulates brain and central nervous system
- Increases mental toughness and psychological strength
Some of these benefits may seem a bit inconceivable to you. Surely jumping in a cold shower won’t help you to relax or lower your heart rate, right? Well, let me explain…
Being exposed to acute stress, like the cold or holding your breath, results in a sudden spike of stress hormones, such as norepinephrine and adrenaline. This sudden spike is just enough to reduce inflammation in your body.
Reducing inflammation leads to a reduction in the chronic production of stress hormones – chronic meaning prolonged.
Exposing yourself to the cold and holding your breath can brake the cycle of chronic stress, lowering your blood pressure, heart rate and helping you to relax more in every day life.
In simple terms, exposing yourself to a controlled spike in stress helps you to relax a lot more when you are not subject to stress. It’s kind of like building a muscle – putting it under controlled stress is not particularly beneficial in that moment; however, it does lead to future strength and efficiency as your body adapts.
How to apply cold exposure
Below are four ways to apply cold exposure and benefit from the advantages explained above. They include:
- Cold Showers
- Cold Water Dousing
- Cold Water Plunge
- Extended Cold Exposure
1. Cold Showers
Once you have washed in your morning shower, turn the knob to cold. Be ready, it will take your breath away!
When the water hits you, start “burst breathing.”
Burst breathing is simply inhaling through your nose with a short sharp burst, then exhaling with a short sharp burst through your mouth.
As the exhale bursts from your mouth, imagine disposing all the discomfort you feel. Do this until the shock passes and your breathing steadies.
If you need an example, check out The Black Country Buddhas in action…
Start by just getting used to a little discomfort, say twenty seconds, then build up until you become comfortable with being uncomfortable – increase your cold exposure by five to ten seconds whenever you feel ready.
When your time is up you can either:
- Get straight out of the shower, or
- Turn the water back to hot for some contrast.
When you do this, focus on how you feel. It’s quite a soothing, meditative state, feeling the blood flowing back into your limbs from your core region.
2. Cold Water Dousing
I have taken this one from the Russian martial art of Systema, so you know this is going to be a no-nonsense technique!
Fill two large buckets with cold water and douse yourself twice per day, once before noon and once before midnight.
When I say “douse,” I simply mean pour the two buckets of cold water over your head one after the other.
If you can, do it outside with your bare feet touching the ground.
Also note, this not just a summer cool down! Do the dousing all year round regardless of weather and temperature but please make sure you are strong enough to cope with this first! I repeat, contact your doctor before rushing into anything!
Again, to help with the quick shock, apply the burst breathing!
3. Cold Water Plunge
This is essentially a modified “ice bath” which you may have heard of in the world of elite sport. Many elite sports personalities use ice baths and cryotherapy chambers to speed up recovery after a hard session.
Fill your bath tub with the coldest water you can. If you can, add a few bags of ice to really get that temperature down! The aim here is total head to toe immersion for two minutes – not your face, it’s good to breath!
Again, start off small with around twenty seconds and build up your tolerance over time. Even twenty seconds has been shown to release the hormone norepinephrine. This is what we are looking for!
Build up slowly at about five to ten seconds per plunge until you get to the two minute mark. Don’t be afraid to warm up the bath or jump in the shower when done to add a little contrast.
If you live near the sea, lake or river, even better. Get out into nature and take the plunge there!
NOTE: Always do the cold water plunge with company as people have been known to drown in just a few inches of water! Please do not do this on your own!
4. Extended Cold Exposure
This is an easy one if you live in a cold climate!
When the weather is cold outside, at say zero degrees, go for a 30 minute walk in a T-shirt.
If you’re really brave just your shorts and T-shirt!
If you’re invincible go Wim Hoff style and just wear your shorts!
This prolonged cold exposure will still have many of the same benefits noted above and you don’t have to get wet!
I like to do this whilst walking the dog so I can get the benefits of exercise, meditation, cold exposure, feeling at one with nature, filling my lungs with fresh oxygen, feeling alive and keeping my dog happy 🙂
The benefits are plentiful!
Stress, cold exposure and hormetic stressors
Cold exposure is an awesome hormetic stressor that is easy to access.
If you have the physical ability to take part in such a ritual, give it a try and let us know how you get on!
You can also try it with your group, family or tribe. It’s a great team builder and mood booster!
There are other hormetic stressors such heat exposure and fasting which I may cover at a later date. Please let me know if you want to hear more about these topics and I will kindly oblige!
The more you seek the uncomfortable, the more you will become comfortable.
– Conor McGregor