Whenever the word “stress” is mentioned, this is what comes to mind. A person with hands pressing on temples, coupled with an anguished face and definitely not a happy look.
Believe it or not, stress can actually be beneficial and here’s why.
Good: Creates excitation
Who knew that stress would be the one responsible for us feeling excited?
Good stress, also known as “eustress” a term coined by Hungarian endocrinologist Hans Selye defines it as stress that is beneficial to our health and improves our well-being. It occurs when we are riding a roller coaster, getting a pay raise and all the great things that happen in our lives.
Basically providing an adrenaline rush, eustress gives you that positive zing and the feeling of fulfillment we are all working towards. Without eustress life would be pretty bland!
Good: Provides motivation
Apart from providing excitement, eustress also helps you to overcome your daily challenges. By providing you a short burst of mental and physical energy, it also increases your alertness and boosts your memory while motivating you to meet your deadlines.
Good: Responsible for Fight-or-Flight response
Have you ever stopped walking into a red light crossing, or averted a potentially disastrous situation? You can thank stress for that.
As an evolved survival mechanism, this fight-or-flight response primes your body to either take on the imminent threat or flee from it. In doing so, we are more likely to survive that danger.
However, this involuntary response may be activated without the presence of a non-life threatening physical threat, e.g. phobias and work pressure. Over time, repeated activation of such response is how chronic stress manifests itself and into the negative side of stress, such as health issues.
Bad: Causes health problems
Accumulative stress over weeks and months, can negatively affect your immune system. Research suggests that chronic stress can also contribute towards hypertension, heart diseases, memory loss and other health complications.
When your body is constantly in the fight-or-flight mode, it suppresses your immune, digestive and sleep systems. This is why you are more likely to fall ill, experience insomnia when you are going through a particularly stressful period.
Bad: Decreases performance
When you are stressed, your decision-making ability is also compromised.
Multiple studies shows that even mild acute stress can cause a rapid, drastic loss of our prefrontal cortex cognitive abilities. Let alone prolonged exposure, which causes dendrites (neuron branches) shrinkage, creating problems in receiving and sending information between cells.
Decision making usually involves deciding between emotional and cognitive control systems, and stress can interfere and impair the cognitive system. Thus, a person under stress will have an increased focus on the rewards in the situation and a hard time controlling their urges and cravings, leading to risky behaviors such as indulging in alcohol or engaging in violent behaviors. You will also tend to be moodier and more irritable.
Bad: Emotional distress
Your mental health can seriously take a hit when you are overwhelmed by stress. The release of stress hormones (cortisol) heightens our reactive, reflective state elevating anxiety levels. This can trigger the onset of depression, anxiety disorders and other mental health issues.
Managing bad stress to get more good stress
As much as we would love to lead a stress-free life but that is simply unrealistic. Thus, learning to manage our stress is part and parcel of life.
- Change what you can and accept what you cannot. Don’t tire yourself out by stressing yourself over things that are out of your hands, e.g. transportation breakdowns.
- Breathe. As simple as it sounds, deep breathing for 10 seconds calms you down while you regain control over your physical reactions.
- Walks and exercise. By including physical activities, it can help you take your mind off things. Another popular option is yoga.
- Meditation. Another classic technique, this will also assist you in managing and working through your emotions