Could Some Stress Actually Be Good For You?
It’s often cited as the health epidemic of the 21st century, but while we’re all well versed in the havoc that stress can wreak on us both mentally and physically, there is evidence to suggest certain types can actually be good for us.
Science has even given this kind of stress its own word – eustress, which literally means ‘good stress’.
From boosting brainpower, increasing resilience to motivating us to succeed, it’s possible to harness the positive power of stress instead of trying to eradicate it from your life it altogether. Here’s how:
Take A Time-Out
As well as a physical toll (a compromised immune system, anyone? How about some premature ageing?), high levels of stress can lead to depression and anxiety. However, exposure to moderate levels can boost our resilience by teaching us to be less reactive to future stressors.
In order to benefit from these manageable stressors (by making future ones easier to tackle), it’s really important you allow yourself some recovery time between stressful events – your physical and mental health will thank you for it in the long run.
Put it Into Practice: The next time you feel your tension rising, replace the ‘Oh my god, I’m so stressed’ soundtrack undoubtedly running through your head with ‘OK, this is a challenge, what am I going to learn from it?’
However, just as you welcome stressful situations when they’re upon you as an opportunity to learn, embrace those moments of downtime when they arise too.
Optimise Your Stress
Whether it’s a work deadline, uni project or something else entirely, if you feel stressed about anything specific, it’s a pretty strong indicator that you care about it – and that can be really beneficial to your overall performance.
Low levels can kick-start a chain reaction of chemicals in your brain called neurotrophins, which basically strengthen the connections between the neurons in your brain to boost productivity and concentration (a similar thing happens when we exercise).
When this occurs, it’s possible to enter a state of ‘flow’, which describes a heightened sense of awareness and complete absorption into a task – it’s this bad boy that will help you get shit done.
Put it Into Practice: The key is to stay in control of your stress levels and not allow yourself to be overwhelmed by them.
If you feel that you’re reaching a point where anxiety or worry is becoming detrimental to your performance, take a few minutes to yourself to try to focus on the task at hand and not the emotion.
Stop Viewing It as a Negative
As baffling as it sounds, there is compelling evidence to suggest that the mere act of believing that stress is harmful to your health is enough to actually be harmful to your health.
Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal first brought this concept to our attention during her 2013 TED talk, arguing that if you drop the anxiety that surrounds your stress levels, your body will be able to cope with its affects naturally.
McGonigal cited three separate studies during her popular talk (seriously, it’s been viewed over 14,000,000 times), the first, conducted by the University of Wisconsin, showed that those who are under a profound level of stress are at a 43% increased risk of dying – but only if they believed that stress was harmful to their health.
Put it Into Practice: Again, the idea that you can dodge the negative affects of stress is underpinned by how you view it.
During moments of stress, you could probably do without sprinkling even more stress over the situation by reminding yourself that stress is so bad for you and oh-my-god-are-you-going-to-die?
Instead, remind yourself that while this is really quite stressful, it will pass, you will recover and you definitely (probably) won’t die.
Stress To Boost Your Immune System
When we feel stressed, our body goes into fight or flight mode. In order to prepare itself for injury, the brain then releases a series of chemicals that temporarily boost our immunity.
Think of this as Mother Nature’s way of trying to keep us alive. However, this only occurs when you feel short-term stress – if you try to exist in a permanent state of stress, your body will be unable to cope with the extra demand and will eventually supress your immune system.
Put it Into Practice: Ultimately, if you struggle with your stress levels it’s imperative that you tap into something – exercise, surfing, knitting, anything – that helps you relieve stress and then make it a regular part of your life.
While there are many different benefits to be gleaned from experiencing stress, they all have the same things in common; it has to be low to moderate levels of stress and these bouts need to be temporary.
If you’re experiencing prolonged, chronic levels of stress you might want to consider seeking some support.
Nicola is a UK based writer and editor with a special interest in entertainment, lifestyle, tech, travel and parenting. Her ‘likes’ include new stationary, sanitising her hands and not following through on plans to go to that early morning Pilates class. Her (almost) decade-long career as a journalist has taken her to the States, Sydney and back to Blighty, where she can currently be found plotting her next adventure.