Inducing stress to reduce stress sounds counterintuitive, right?
Not according to new research, which suggest putting the body under brief moments of stress – like a cold shower – can help it manage chronic stress.
This idea is called ‘hormetic stress’, which means putting yourself in short moments of intense stress to overall bring stress down.
Tools like HIIT, cryotherapy and saunas can all play their role here, as they expose the body to high levels of tension – only to then create a sense of release.
Hormetic stress can actually make us feel better overall.
Dr Elissa Epel, director of the ageing, metabolism and emotion center at the University of California, has been researching this area.
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, she said that practices like ice baths can ‘create short-term spikes of biological stress followed by recovery, ease and deep restoration and that is otherwise hard to get’.
She added: ‘These short periods of stress shock our systems at the cellular and molecular level, challenging our bodies to adapt to tough conditions and restore equilibrium.’
Her research has found that consciously engaging in short periods of stress on the body, might actually be able to help us psychologically, too.
As well as certain exercises and extreme temperatures, eating particular foods and practicing breathing exercises that create a temporary shortage of oxygen can also have this effect.
The key difference is that chronic stress is unlike hormetic stress, the former of which can be damaging to our health and wellbeing – physically and mentally.
Of course, we shouldn’t be overloading ourselves with stress – hormetic or otherwise. Caution needs to be taken.
Dr Epel wrote in a paper: ‘Brief intermittent, low dose stressors can lead to positive biological responses, improving resistance to damage…
‘In contrast, a high dose and chronic exposure can override these mechanisms.’
A cold shower can’t change your life, but over time it might be doing more good than you realise.
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