How Acute Stress Impacts You

How Acute Stress Impacts You

Photo by boram kim on Unsplash

  Written by: Sabrina Sourjah
Date Updated: 2/24/2021
Reviewed by: Patrick D. Randolph, Ph.D.

Acute stress is an integral part of the current world. “I’m so stressed” has become the norm for responding when someone asks us how our day is going.

According to a 2020 study by the American Psychological Association (APA), 78% of Americans indicated that the coronavirus pandemic was a significant source of stress in their lives. This is a warning of the national mental health crisis that experts anticipate over the next few years.

In 2019, 71% attributed significant stress to mass shootings, while the other notable stressors were health care, climate change, rising suicide rates, and immigration issues.

What is acute stress?

Acute stress is short-term stress as opposed to chronic stress that lasts in the long term. The stress can be perceived or real, of a low magnitude, or life-threatening.

Generally, few infrequent episodes of acute stress do not impact healthy individuals. In fact, some stress can cause healthy friction in life, propelling individuals towards their goals and motivating them to work hard for certain outcomes.

However, the impact of acute stressors can be devastating if stress becomes a way of life and one does not have the tools to deal with stress in a healthy manner.

Examples of acute stressors

  • An important work presentation
  • A public speaking assignment
  • Being criticized by your manager
  • An argument with a loved one
  • A traffic jam when you’re already late
  • A job interview
  • Taking part in a race
  • Death of a loved one

Impact of Acute Stress

1. Overall Health

When an event is identified as challenging or threatening, the brain produces an excess of the “stress” hormone. This has a cascading effect on the rest of the body. Muscles tighten up, breathing becomes strained, and the heart starts beating faster. Since the brain controls all organs, the impact of stress is felt by the abdomen, the gut, bowels, reproductive system, and nervous system.

2. Surgery Outcomes

Research from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) suggests that delays in wound healing for those recovering from surgeries can be attributed to psychological stress. When surgical wounds and stitches take longer to heal, recovery from surgery will also be delayed.

3. Mental Health

Stress plays a major role in one’s mental health, and researchers have extensively studied this connection. Cumulative psychological disorders, depression, and anxiety were common among research subjects that had faced acute stressors. When acute stress is not managed well, individuals tend to be unfocused, and they lose the ability to relax their minds and bodies.

4. Longevity

Heavy stress shortens the human life expectancy by 2.8 years. This is not surprising given the impact of acute stress on overall health and mental health discussed above. Those with acute stress also displayed an increased risk for all-cause mortality.

Interestingly, research also found that when one considers the level of stress in their lives as similar to others, their life expectancy increases. Whereas if the stress level is deemed as low or high than that of others, life expectancy decreases. This points to the fact that perceived stress is closely related to one’s longevity compared to “real” stress.

5. Life Satisfaction

Individuals with acute stress have the propensity for increased pain and disability, and their quality of life tends to be lower. Life satisfaction is the sum of overall health, mental wellbeing, longevity, and quality of life. Acute stress impacts all sources of life satisfaction and thereby can lead to an unfulfilled life.