What is Stress?
Stress is normal – typically short-term – biological response to difficult, threatening, or unexpected events.
When we’re stressed, our bodies release chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol, which allow us to respond to stressors quickly and effectively.
These chemicals prepare our bodies to either fight or flee.
For example, adrenaline:
- Increases heart rate for better circulation
- Allows muscles to work better
- Increases breathing rate to raise blood oxygen levels
- Promotes sweating for effective cooling
- Helps the brain function better
- Suppresses functions unnecessary for survival
- Controls blood pressure
- Increases energy
Stress plays a big role in keeping us safe, but it has its downside, too.
So, what’s the difference between good stress and bad stress?
Read on to find out.
The Upside of Stress
Besides being good for our immediate survival, moderate stress can provide many benefits.
Stress Improves Mental Ability
Stress caused by temporary, non-life-threatening events can help our brains work better.
It increases the connections between different brain regions.
This helps improve concentration and memory, and ultimately leads to more productivity.
This explains why we may feel more productive under pressure.
Stress Temporarily Boosts the Immune System
Stress that lasts for a short period may increase our immune system’s production of protective chemicals (called interleukins).
This helps our body prepare to defend itself from infection and injury.
Stress Can Make Us Resilient
Stress, with the right coping mechanisms, can help us build resilience.
When we’re exposed to a new stressor, we may not know how to handle it.
This can be distressing.
But, if we work to brainstorm healthy solutions, we become adaptable.
Eventually, we train ourselves to handle stress more effectively.
This way, when similar situations happen in the future, we’re better equipped to handle stress without becoming overwhelmed.
Stress Can Be Motivating
Eustress is the technical term for stress that we interpret as positive.
We typically experience this type of stress when faced with a new, exciting challenge.
By pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone, our motivation, confidence, and satisfaction grow.
Some examples of eustress are:
- Completing a challenging workout
- Exploring personal interests and goals
- Taking on a new (desirable) project at work
- Going to unfamiliar places (social events, a new city, etc.)
The Downside of Stress
On the flip side, it’s well known that too much stress can be harmful to our overall well-being.
Recurring stress (frequent episodes of short-term stress) and chronic stress (long-term stress) can negatively impact our mental and physical health.
Stress Can Cause Physical Problems
- Stomach upset
- Chronic pain
- Chest pain
- Heart disease and attack
- Sleep issues
- High blood pressure
- Reproductive problems
- Digestive problems
- Negative changes to gut bacteria
Stress Can Cause Mental and Emotional Health Challenges
- Concentration issues
- Low motivation
Stress Can Cause Behavioral Changes
- Binge eating or low appetite
- Substance misuse
- Social withdrawal
- Low self-care
- Uncharacteristic emotional outbursts
- Decreased sex drive
Stress is a natural, necessary part of life.
At times, it benefits us to go through stressful experiences.
It helps us survive in dangerous situations, build resilience, explore our capabilities.
On the other hand, when we’re stressed too often, our risk for negative outcomes increases.
Finding a balance is crucial for our health.
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