Tips for Thought

The Surprising Benefits of Stress

Many people consider stress as a silent killer because of its multiple adverse effects on one’s health. However, recent studies show that stress can benefit us, provided we know how to use it. Here are some instances in which stress can be advantageous and tips on how we can use that to better our lives.

What is stress?

In a nutshell, stress is the body’s physical and psychological reaction to changes or challenges called “stressors.” While many people have experienced stress at some point in their lives, it’s important to note that stress is subjective, and a person’s tolerance towards it can vary between individuals.

Experts divided stress into two types: distress and eustress. Distress is the negative experiences we feel when faced with such stressors. Some examples include dealing with financial issues, struggling to make ends meet, or suddenly encountering a dangerous threat.

On the other hand, Eustress is an average amount of stress that can be beneficial. Some examples include going on a rollercoaster, trying something new, or the feeling before you start performing on stage, which results in a standing ovation.

Stress isn’t there without reason. Our perceptions shaped by internal and external factors help us examine and evaluate potential “dangers” and how we should respond. Some examples of stress responses include fight, flight, freeze, or fawn.

Fight is to respond to such stressors aggressively. Flight means to run away from such danger. Freeze is the body’s inability to move or react against a threat. At the same time, fawn is the body’s stress response to appease the danger to avoid conflict.

When does stress turn harmful?

While there are two types of stress, there is no doubt that distress and excess stress can strain a person’s health. When not managed or regulated correctly, stress can lead to constant anxiety and panic and even long-term chronic conditions like cardiovascular issues.

What does stress teach us?

Stress in moderate amounts can be beneficial for us. Here are some instances of how “good” stress can improve our lives for the better:

1. It boosts brainpower.

Some low-level stressors can help boost brainpower by strengthening the connections between brain neurons. Additionally, it triggers the production of brain chemicals called neurotrophins, which are the brain proteins involved in growth and development, survival, and proper neuron function. These low-level stressor effects can help one improve focus, productivity, and concentration, thus enabling them to achieve their goals.

2. It provides short-term immunity.

Stressors are indicators that the body must defend itself. As such, in some cases under stress, our bodies will respond by producing extra interleukins, which are chemicals necessary in regulating immune responses and inflammation. Some instances where this happens is when short-term stress can give an injured person immunity-based protection in threatening circumstances.

3. It teaches one to become resilient.

Aside from the physical benefits of short-term stress, people can also psychologically benefit from it depending on their mindset and willingness to learn.

For instance, some people in time-constraint jobs like sales become resilient over time if they view negative experiences as learning opportunities. Depending on the person’s perception, such a situation may be a source of distress for many because of the high demand and pressure the sales industry provides to its employees.

Another example is starting a workout regimen. Many workout regimens include exercises that challenge and add pressure to the body and muscles, which can be a stressful experience. However, through resilience, patience, and the willingness to learn, an uncomfortable workout session eventually becomes a beneficial routine as both the body and mind adapt. While the initial struggle and pain are short-term and awkward, people gain long-term benefits from exercise if they stay consistent and resilient.

4. It can be a great motivator to succeed.

People with a healthy mindset may find short-term stress a great way to motivate themselves to do the job. Small sacrifices like waking up an hour early and prioritizing complex tasks first can be both challenging and motivating. Once a person faces such challenges, their tolerance for more obstacles increases until they develop this hunger and motivation to take the next step. Indeed, all great successes truly start with small steps.

How can we use stress to our benefit?

Now that you know the benefits of stress and how it can be used to make your lives better, here are some handy tips on how you can use it to improve your life:

1. Develop self-awareness.

Self-awareness is the recognition of one’s strengths and weaknesses. A person must be willing to examine themselves objectively and ask themselves questions that can be uncomfortable to develop this skill.

Self-awareness is critical in handling stress because it allows you to understand what parts of yourself are your best assets and which ones you need to improve on. Once you have figured out the latter, you can use this as a stepping point to improve it so you can handle stress better.

2. Organize your thoughts.

Many people experience stress because they feel overwhelmed by their circumstances, whether personal or professional. To tackle such uncomfortable feelings, it helps to organize your thoughts regularly to “declutter” your brain. One handy way to do this is to start a journal where you write everything on your mind. Don’t worry about incoherence; summarize your thoughts to clear it up quickly.

Once you clear your mind, figure out the tasks you must do first, like short-term goals. Next, break them down into actionable tasks and tackle them head-on.

3. Reflect on your stressors.

What are some stressors that plague your daily life? How do they affect your day or mood? If you could change them or make them easier to handle, how would you do so?

Consider the above questions as you examine your stressors. After figuring out your stressors and possibly generating solutions to improve them, remember to reflect on how these obstacles can help you and what you can learn from them.

4. Take breaks regularly.

Whether you’re dealing with personal or professional stressors, taking regular breaks helps reset and recharge your mind and body. Long-term exposure to stressors can be debilitating to one’s health and can lead to chronic stress.

5. Practice self-compassion.

Self-compassion is understanding your flaws and forgiving yourself for not doing things right the first time. Many people feel the need to blame themselves or others when things don’t go their way or if they believe they haven’t met the standards they set for themselves. This reaction is widespread in stressful situations, which can affect your mental state.

To avoid excess self-criticism and loathing, cut yourself some slack if you make some mistakes. Forgive yourself and use your setbacks as an opportunity to replan and start again. In many long-term goals, setbacks are part of the process, so learn from them.

Takeaway: Stress is often deemed a negative experience because of its physical and mental pressure on the body. However, there are some instances when stress can be a positive force for many. Once we learn to distinguish between distress and eustress, we can train ourselves to handle stress better without risking our bodies and minds.