Most of us assume that stress is bad. But the effects of stress can also be good. Read on to find out about the difference between good and bad stress.
We all experience stress in our lives and many of us try to reduce the effects of stress because we think it is bad for us. However, some stress can actually be beneficial. It can motivate us to get stuff done and it also has some health benefits, too.
The secret is to make sure we have a balance of stress, enough to motivate us, but not so much we become overwhelmed, anxious and begin to experience detrimental health conditions.
What is stress anyway?
Stress is the way your body reacts to any threat or demand being made on it. When you experience a threat or have to deal with something urgent, you brain prepares your body by releasing stress hormones such as adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol. This is what is known as the ‘fight or flight’ or stress response.
Of course, this is sometimes a bad thing, we can get a flood or hormones to prepare ourselves for a threat, but they may be inappropriate for the source of our stress. For example, a burst of adrenaline does very little to help us compose and urgent yet sensitive email.
But in some situations, the effects of stress can be very beneficial. Obviously, it is essential in a life-threatening situation where we need to run away or defend ourselves. But it can also boost our motivation and spur us on to get things done. Stress hormones can help us be more alert, focused and energetic. Stress is, in fact, essential to us. Why would we get off the sofa to study for an exam or complete a work report if it weren’t for the effects of stress?
Here are some of the ways stress can be beneficial.
1. Moderate stress improves cognitive function
Studies have shown that a moderate level of stress can boost your brainpower. This is because it strengthens the connections between neurons in the brain. Researchers at the University of Berkeley found that exposing rats to brief stressful events even made new nerve cells form in their brains. These brain changes can result in improved memory and a boost in your attention span, helping you to be more productive.
2. Moderate stress boosts immunity
The stress response is designed to protect you from threats, even the threats posed by bacteria and microorganisms. This means stress can also help you fight off infections. Experiencing a moderate level of stress stimulate the release of a chemical called interleukins and this gives the immune system a boost. So moderate stress could help you fight off a cold!
However, chronic stress has been shown to increase inflammation and lower immunity. So its all about getting the balance right.
3. Moderate stress is good for your heart
Studies have shown that a moderate amount of stress can be good for your heart. In one study, researchers followed patients experiencing high, moderate and low levels of stress before having surgery, something that can put a lot of strain on the heart. They found that those with moderate levels of stress recovered faster than those with high or low levels.
4. Moderate stress can be good for you mental health
Moderate levels of stress can strengthen our mental health. Minor stresses can be like a practice run, helping us deal more effectively when major stressful events occur in our lives.
Researchers at UCLA found that “People with a history of some lifetime adversity reported better mental health and well-being outcomes than people with a high history of adversity and people with no history of adversity.” (Seery et al., 2010, p. 1025)
5. Moderate stress can promote child development
A lot of women worry that if they experience stress when pregnant, this might harm their babies. While chronic stress or trauma may have some negative effects, the good news is that normal everyday stress does no harm and can actually be beneficial.
A study at John Hopkins University followed 137 women from mid-pregnancy until their children were 2 years old. They found that babies born to mothers who experienced mild to moderate stress during pregnancy showed more advanced development than babies who were born to unstressed mothers.
So stress isn’t all bad and the moderate effects of stress can be very beneficial. The secret is to try to keep stress levels from becoming too high. Easier said than done sometimes, I know.
It can also be difficult to know what level of stress is too high. The following symptoms could suggest that your stress levels could do with being reduced.
- Chronic fatigue
- Inability to concentrate or complete tasks
- Frequent illnesses
- Autoimmune diseases
- Aches and pains
- Difficulty sleeping or increased desire for sleep
- Over or undereating
While some stress is essential for survival, too much can have very harmful effects. Long-term stress can cause anxiety, depression and chronic fatigue as well as high blood pressure, and heart problems.
If you are experiencing excessive levels of stress, check out the articles below to find some strategies that might help.
- 10 Stress Management Techniques Backed by Science
- 18 Strategies for Managing Stress That Really Work
- 11 Relaxation Techniques to Help You Cope with Negativity, Anxiety and Stress
- 12 Healthy Coping Mechanisms to Get Through Stressful Situations and Difficult Times
If you have been experiencing the negative effects of stress for a while, you should, of course, seek advice from a medical practitioner.