What is stress?
When we think of stress, we immediately associate it with something negative. This is not always true. As humans we have developed a keen sense of survival in our nervous system called the flight or fight response. Back in the day, this was the mechanism that helped us to escape physical threats like running from a tiger in the jungle. In our modern world, this stress has become a bigger deal as running from a tiger has turned into surviving each day. Creating long to do lists, trying to coordinate work & family time, dealing with traffic, eating too much processed foods and refined sugar, and poor relationships all contribute to too much stress. The reptilian brain that oversees this cannot differentiate between physical stress and the emotional stress accompanied within the 20,000 thoughts we deal with daily. Influenced by the news, and social media creates even more stress where some people get stuck in a fear mode with no place to go. This is what we call chronic stress.
Is there such a thing as good stress?
Thankfully, there is a good stress. This is called positive or hormetic stress. A positive stress, when applied properly can help us grow and adapt to become stronger both physically and mentally. You may have heard the saying …” What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger “…there is a lot of truth to this statement. Even science has revealed that this is very accurate , even down to the cellular level. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2248601/
A hormetic stress is the idea that short, or intermittent bursts of certain stressors can actually trigger a cascade of cellular processes that enhance overall health, slow ageing, and make you more resilient to futures stress (both physical and mental). Researchers have found that hormesis is a common thread underlying many of the healthy benefits associated with intermittent fasting, cold exposures, heat exposure, high-intensity interval training (HIT), and even certain phytonutrients found in plant food, like the glucosinolates in cruciferous vegetables. These include broccoli, cabbage, watercress, radishes, capers to name a few.
High doses of any of these behaviors or substances are not sustainable or healthy ( example spending too much time in ice cold water ) , but in short bursts the little bit of irritation that these stressors cause is just enough to bring you out of your comfort zone and activate a variety of cellular mechanisms and signaling pathways that promote resilience, repair cellular damage, repair DNA, combat oxidative stress, produce new mitochondria, reduce inflammation, support elimination of toxins, improve blood sugar regulation, and more.
Some experts believe that if you do not expose yourself to enough hormetic stress, it is hard to achieve optimal health and well-being. One easy stressor that you can try including in your day is cold shower exposure. This has become a daily practice for me, and I definitely feel the strength benefits. For more information on this topic and how to get started, please refer to my blog on the benefits of cold showers