Within the Paleo community there is much talk of the benefits of using acute stresses (intermittent fasting, interval exercise, cold showers, fasted exercise) to spark an adaptation response which will supposedly make us stronger people.
I read an article this morning that supports this (using fasted, short high intensity training, coupled with under-eating to elicit "old muscle turnover" thus creating younger, stronger muscle mass). This article points out, however, that chronic stress can undermine the benefits of acute doses of stress.
Considering we all live in a modern environment with it's chronic stresses, many of which we may not even register as stress (artificial lights, traffic, internet, TV news, etc.), does implementing these "acute stresses" make us stronger or wear us down more? What do you do to achieve balance between acute and chronic forms of stress? Do you use acute stress techniques and do they help you better deal with the chronic stresses of modern living?
I ask this because I am firmly on the fence about this. An old lady flipped me the bird as she was backing out of a church parking lot today. Clearly everyone is well dosed with the chronic form of stress.
There is no simple answer to these questions, only contextual ones.
The evidence is generally that high-intensity exercise reduced chronic stress, that's pretty clear. But if someone is already very unhealthy, has heart problems, knee injuries, weak bones, etc, then they probably shouldn't do the typical crossfit workout.
An important principle to remember, as important as that negative, anxious chronic stress causes poor health, is that poor health impairs the ability to handle such situations. Inflammation, various nutrient deficiencies, and all that stems from that greatly hinders our ability to cope with things and once we get someone eating properly and doing some exercise we will improve their ability to cope with stress which improves their health and started the upward spiral. Once that happens then it might be a good idea to start IFing. Intermittent fasting is great but it is obvious from listening to newbies with metabolic syndrome that it is more a detriment than a positive before they get their health under control. Same goes for fasted exercise usually.
Cold showers is entirely personal. No way am I going to -warm up- to that idea :)
I think that worrying about whether or not one is getting enough acute stress could become a chronic stress... but seriously, acute stresses often help me to put things in perspective when I am stuck in a depressive or anxious rut and not thinking straight - usually due to a bout with sugar and wheat. A cold shower at first feels awful! How much I hate it is the only thing I can concentrate on. When it's done I feel accomplished that I survived it. The same with hiking in an area known for rattlesnakes. Thinking of it like a graph... everyone has a baseline for when their stress response is activated. More neurotic people like myself get aggravated by many things that would escape others' notice. Acute stresses for me bring up the baseline for my stress response - things that would have stressed me out before are below notice and my overall stress level is reduced.
Another factor is that many of the "acute stresses" we subject ourself to are self-inflicted and under our control - intense exercise, IF, cold showers etc. We do it to ourselves because we want to - this sense of power and control over one's circumstances can go a long way towards increasing our self esteem and resistance to external stressors.
Most people have way too much chronic stress in their lives and do not even realize it as they have become to think that is just 'normal'. Acute stress can be advantageous. Long term, unmanageable stress will break down the body on many levels. Managing or eliminating stress is of the utmost importance, second only to eating healthy.
I think the idea is that chronic stress didn't really happen much to our paleo ancestors. Acute stress, in the form of a long hunt, a raid by an enemy tribe, or a predator attack, occurred sporadically but relatively often. In between those events, there was probably lots of lounging, napping, and gossiping.