Feeling stressed? Hongera! Anyway, we hear over and over again that stress is unhealthy. And all that talk makes us, well, stressed. But getting worked up isn’t always a bad thing, after all, the body’s fight-or-flight response is meant to be protective, not harmful.
What you might find surprising is that contrary to popular belief, some stress can actually be a good thing. Stress, when harnessed properly, can have numerous benefits for the body and mind. But in order to use stress to our advantage, it’s important first to understand what exactly causes it and, if everyone tells us to avoid it, how it can actually help us.
When we feel stress, our body is sending us a signal about how the pressures we experience affect us physically and mentally. stress triggers a “fight or flight” response that turns on parts of our nervous system and causes us to make certain hormones. You know the feeling — heart racing, palms sweaty, eyes wide open, heightened awareness. Ever been in a dangerous situation and all of a sudden felt like you could lift a car or outrun a chasing dog? It’s actually your body and mind responding to stress: In the end, we get a turbo boost of speed, strength, and senses that can be an incredible advantage in our everyday lives. It’s only when stress becomes chronic, or when we feel we’re no longer in control of a situation, that it negatively affects our health and wellbeing. Alafu don’t think any type of stress is good, but this isn’t the case. In truth, all stress is not created equal. Obviously, when you’re overwhelmed and under pressure it’s hard to see the silver lining. And if someone told you stress is not or beneficial to your health, you might laugh them off or suggest they have their head examined. But there’s validity in this statement.
This doesn’t mean you should make your life as complicated and stressful as possible. The saying “stress kills” couldn’t be a truer statement. When chronic stress — which is the bad type — dominates your thoughts day in and day out, it does a number on your body, causing anxiety, tiredness, high blood pressure, depression, etc.
It may be tough to tell when you’re experiencing good or bad stress, but there are important ways that your body lets you know that you’re struggling with too much disadvantageous stress. Watch out for the following warning signs:
- Inability to concentrate or complete tasks
- Get sick more often with colds
- Body aches
- Other illnesses like autoimmune diseases flare up
- Trouble falling sleeping or staying awake
- Changes in appetite
- More angry or anxious than usual
But although you should do whatever it takes to avoid this type of relentless mental abuse, you should welcome moderate doses of stress with open arms. So, before you coin stress as the “bad guy,” consider some of these surprising health benefits
> Stress Can Sharpen Your Memory
Did you ever notice that sometimes when you are stressed, your memory seems to improve? Remember that big test you aced where the answers seemed to come out of nowhere? That’s one way your brain responds to stress, and it’s because of stress hormones that increase your alertness when it’s most needed. Occasional stress can help keep you focused and improve your recall, which can be a plus when cramming for that test or preparing for an important presentation at work. But just as with anything else, only so much stress can actually help. Too much of it over an extended period of time can make your mind foggy and give you trouble recalling even the most basic of things.
> Stress Can Help Boost Your Immune System
You need a healthy immune system to help fight off infections and disease, and believe it or not, the right kind of stress can actually help your body’s defenses against illness. When you get sick, stress causes you to make hormones that battle threats to your health. And this kind of stress is particularly effective when at the early stages of an illness, when your body needs help the most. Now, it is true your immune system can only handle so much stress: If it lasts too long, these hormones can overwhelm your body and actually decrease your immunity. But that initial burst of stress is an asset when your immune system when you’re the most vulnerable: Right when your body faces a threat.
> Stress Can Help You Get a Leg Up at Work
I know — you’re thinking, “work is what causes my stress!” Well, successful employees turn stress into positive energy and motivation rather than letting it consume them. Ever notice that you get the least amount done on days where you have the fewest deadlines? Too little stress at the workplace can lead to complacency and affect how much you actually get done. When you take risks and choose to attack hurdles at work, it helps your mental toughness and self-confidence. And these are qualities that can increase your marketability and promotion opportunities. Manage the stress and you will get an advantage over colleagues who let stress overwhelm them.
> Stress Can Make Your Life More Interesting
To this point, we’ve described stress a survival tool, but what about the stress we feel when we actually choose to take on a challenge? Think about some stressful situations that we consciously put ourselves in to make life more interesting and enjoyable. Challenges like asking someone out on a first date, facing and conquering a known fear, interacting with people you’ve never met, even learning something completely new. These may not immediately come to mind when you think of stressors — and maybe that’s because of the positive outcomes that come from them — but they’re the types that can help you achieve fulfillment, health, and happiness.
`>Stress improves cognitive (brain) function
Unless you’re at an amusement park and about to experience the ride of your life, you might not enjoy that panicky feeling in the pit of your stomach. On the other hand, if this feeling occurs in response to moderate stress levels, the upside is that the pressure and nervousness you feel can potentially boost your brain’s performance. This is because moderate stress strengthens the connection between neurons in your brain, improving memory and attention span, and helping you become more productive.If you doubt the health benefits of stress on your brain, do a self-evaluation of your performance on days when you’re experiencing a higher amount of stress at work. You may discover that you’re more focused and productive than on low-stress days.
>It helps you dodge a cold
The fight-or-flight response you feel when stressed is designed to protect you, whether it’s from injury or another perceived threat. What’s interesting about low doses of the stress hormone is that it also helps protect from infections. Moderate stress stimulates the production of a chemical called interleukins and gives the immune system a quick boost to protect against illnesses — unlike its evil twin, chronic stress, which lowers immunity and increases inflammation.
Stress helps boost brainpower
Low-level stressors stimulate the production of brain chemicals called neurotrophins, and strengthen the connections between neurons in the brain. In fact, this may be the primary mechanism by which exercise (a physical stressor) helps boost productivity and concentration, Dr. Fulani says. Short-term psychological stressors, he adds, can have a similar effect, as well. Plus, animal studies have suggested that the body’s response to stress can temporarily boost memoryand learning scores.
>Stress enhances child development
Maybe you’ve heard or read stories of women who dealt with severe depression and anxiety during their pregnancies and gave birth prematurely or had babies with low birth weights. It’s true that elevated stress levels can have a negative impact on both mom and baby. As such, most expecting mothers do everything humanly possible to stay healthy and minimize stress and anxiety while pregnant. Lakini, although chronic stress can negatively affect pregnancy, the good news is that moderate levels of normal stress during pregnancy won’t harm a baby. A study found that babies born to women who experienced mild to moderate stress during pregnancy had more advanced early developmental skills by the age of 2 than babies born to unstressed mothers. of course, this study doesn’t suggest giving stress the red-carpet treatment while pregnant. But if you deal with periodic everyday stresses, don’t panic. It may actually help your baby’s development.
>Stress can increase immunity—in the short term
When the body responds to stress, it prepares itself for the possibility of injury or infection, one way it does this is by producing extra interleukins—chemicals that help regulate the immune system—providing at least a temporary defensive boost.
>Stress can make you more resilient
Learning to deal with stressful situations can make future ones easier to manage,
>Stress motivates you to succeed
Good stress, also known in the scientific community as eustress, may be just the thing you need to get job done at work. “Think about a deadline: It’s staring you in the face, and it’s going to stimulate your behavior to really manage the situation effectively, rapidly, and more productively,” says Dr. Shelton. The key, he says, is viewing stressful situations as a challenge that you can meet, rather than an overwhelming, unpassable roadblock. Stress can also help you enter a state of “flow,” a heightened sense of awareness and complete absorption into an activity, according to research from psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow can be achieved in the workplace, in sports, or in a creative endeavor (such as playing a musical instrument), and Csikszentmihalyi argues that it’s driven largely by pressure to succeed.
Although stress can be a true positive, don’t forget that too much of anything is rarely a good thing. It’s true that small bursts — occasional episodes for short periods of time — can provide great benefits, but it’s never a good idea to expose yourself to long-term stress, which is a setup for emotional and physical illness. Instead, recognize the stressors in your life, whether self-chosen or from outside sources, and use the energy that your body produces to your advantage.
So while we may not be the first generation to have faced this amount of stress, we may be the first with the knowledge to turn what has always been considered a negative into a true positive.