Everything You Need to Know About the Good Kind of Stress
Yes, really. There’s even a scientific term for good stress!
You’ve heard it over and over: Stress is bad for you. But did you know some forms of stress, at least, can benefit you? Eustress is the term used for “good stress.” Stress is considered “good” if it’s manageable, leading you to be more productive. Think: anxiety related to a job promotion or public speaking. If the amount of stress you’re dealing with doesn’t overwhelm you, and you can stay focused, you can use it to adapt. Ultimately, manageable, short-term stress can act as motivation to overcome a challenge — and who doesn’t want more motivation?
Stress raises your level of cortisol, a hormone that can contribute to cardiovascular disease, weight gain, sleep problems, and even affect your immune system. But cortisol isn’t all bad: Your body normally is supposed to produce some cortisol every day, which has a positive effect on memory and mood. It produces cortisol along with dopamine during intense exercise, the combination of which is why you may feel a “runner’s high” after a successful workout. And if your cortisol peaks in the short term due to stress, it may help you cope with a demanding environment. For example, a 2013 study from New Mexico State University found that increases in cortisol production were associated with improvements in memory-performing tasks.
Research has also shown short-term stress to have a positive effect on the immune system. One study on knee surgery patients showed that those who experienced short-term stress before surgery were shown to have an immune response that helped with the recovery. This is the body’s way of preparing for a challenge.
Stress can even help you make friends. One study found that subjects who were under acute stress from tasks like public speaking or having to do mental math were more social and trusting after completing the tasks than the participants who had not been put under duress.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP YOUR STRESS FEEL MANAGEABLE?
Stress becomes unhealthy when you don’t feel in control of it, so your mind-set is key. Think about the coworker who looks forward to challenging deadlines, for example. A series of three studies published in the Journal of Social and Psychological Sciences found that training people to view stress as positive makes them more likely to have a healthy response to it. Case in point: In one of the studies, 388 employees of a financial institution where layoffs were occurring were split into three groups. One group watched three 3-minute videos over the course of a week that showed how stress can be beneficial (think: people who make remarkable decisions in the face of stress, such as the pilot who made an emergency landing in the Hudson River in 2009). Another group watched videos highlighting how stress can cause people to crumble (for example, the high percentage of worker burnout). The third group, the control group, watched no videos. The group who watched the videos showing stress as a positive force had improved psychological symptoms and performed better at work in the face of potential layoffs. Meanwhile, the group that watched the videos about the negative effects of stress found stress worse than before.
Don’t get us wrong—it’s better to minimize stress altogether so you can stay in tip-top shape. Studies have shown that stress has been associated with an increased risk of premature death and heart attacks, and chronic stress is linked to obesity. But let’s be real: Stress is inevitable. The next time you face something stressful, don’t let it get to your head. Instead, make sure to make some time to take care of yourself (like with a workout and an immune-supporting supplement like Emergen-C Immune+). Then think of how stress can be good for you, buckle down, and use it as an opportunity to grow and shine.
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