Can stress be a good thing?
While chronic stress is known to cause health problems, research indicates that short bouts of stress may actually help boost the immune system and make us more resilient as adults.
Stress is a part of life and most of us deal with different aspects of stress throughout a normal day. According to Teens Health, stress is a feeling that’s created when we react to a particular event and is the body’s way of rising to a challenge and preparing to meet a tough situation with focus, strength, stamina and heightened alertness. A stress response is an important factor when dealing with emergency situations. An example of this is when a driver slams on the brakes of a vehicle in order to avoid an accident.
What happens to the body when it experiences stress? The Mayo Clinic says the hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of the brain, sets off an alarm system. Nerve and hormonal signals prompt the adrenal glands that release a surge of hormones, which includes adrenaline and cortisol. The adrenaline increases the heart rate and elevates blood pressure and energy supplies. The primary stress hormone, cortisol will increase sugars in the bloodstream, alter the immune system and suppress the digestive system, reproductive system and growth processes.
Most associate stress as something that is bad for our health. Chronic stress can certainly take its toll on both our bodies and health. Ongoing or long-term stressful situations can put a person at increased risk of health problems. Examples include:
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory or concentration impairment
Believe it or not, stress can have some benefits. Duke University gives four unexpected benefits of stress:
- Getting used to a little bit of stress when you’re young can make you more resilient in adulthood.
- You learn and remember new information more effectively under moderate stress.
- Brief stress – even if it’s unpleasant – prior to vaccinations helps to build your immune system and provide better and longer protection against infection.
- Studies show that short bouts of exercise, prior to vaccination, may activate a stress response that will increase the body’s resistance to infection.
An important part of dealing with stress is learning to manage it. Michigan State University Extension offers a six week interactive workshop called Personal Action Towards Health (PATH) which offers skills that help participants learn how to relax and overcome stress.