Stress affects everyone. But the way how it affects each individual person will be different. Two individuals facing similar kind of situation may react in completely different ways. For example loss of a loved one is interpreted and handled in different ways for different people.
Excessive and chronic stress does cause problems physically and psychologically. But short bursts of stress followed by normal emotional behavior can actually be beneficial for you.
How Does Stress Help?
According to experts, stress is a burst of energy that advises you on what to do. In small doses, stress has many advantages. For instance, stress can help you meet daily challenges and motivate you to reach your goals. In fact, it can help you accomplish tasks more efficiently.
You may have often noticed this when you have a deadline or the last half an hour in an exam. Suddenly, you are able to focus better, think clearly and finish it faster than all the time you might have had to finish that particular task.
Stress is also a vital warning system, helping to produce the fight-or-flight response. When the brain perceives some kind of stress, it starts flooding the body with chemicals like epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. This creates a variety of reactions such as an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Plus, the senses suddenly have a laser-like focus so you can avoid physically stressful situations — such as jumping away from a moving car — and be safe.
Beneficial Effects Of Stress
Stress Can Contribute To A Better Immune System
When the body responds to stress, it prepares itself for the possibility of injury or infection. One way it does this is by producing extra interleukins—chemicals that help regulate the immune system—providing at least a temporary defensive boost. Research in animals supports this idea.
A 2012 Stanford study found that subjecting lab rats to mild stress produced a “massive mobilization” of several types of immune cells in their bloodstreams. It was found that a 30-minute stressor in rodents (physical restraint under a bright light) augments antibody production—our adaptive immune response—during flu shots and provides greater protection against illness. The benefits can last for as long as nine months.
Stress can also improve how your heart works and protect your body from infection. In one study, individuals who experienced moderate levels of stress before surgery were able to recover faster than individuals who had low or high levels.
Stress Can Protect From Effects Of Ageing
Brief episodes of stress could be good for us, protecting us from the effects of ageing – as long as one is not already too stressed to begin with. Chronic stress causes wear and tear to body tissues, increasing our risk of developing age-related diseases such as cancer, diabetes and dementia.
One reason for this is that the body responds to stress by burning fuel to release energy. While this helps us respond to a threat, it also swamps cells with toxic free radicals produced during metabolism. Switched on long-term, this response damages DNA, RNA and other molecules, ageing us before our time.
Kirstin Aschbacher of the University of California, San Francisco, and her colleagues wanted to test whether a short period of intense stress is more damaging if we are already living through a stressful period. They took a group of women chronically stressed by caring for close relatives with dementia, and made them give a speech in front of a sceptical panel of judges. A group of unstressed women performed the same task to act as a control group.
The researchers asked the women to say how stressful they found the test. They also measured their levels of the stress hormone cortisol, plus biochemical markers of damage inside their cells.
For the stressed women, the extra challenge indeed proved particularly harmful: the threat of the test caused more cellular damage than in the non-stressed controls. Perhaps more intriguing, though, was an unexpected effect Aschbacher and her colleagues found within the control group.
Among these normally relaxed women, those who found the task moderately stressful had lower levels of cellular damage than those who did not find it stressful at all. In other words, while chronic stress can have knock-on effects that damage cellular structures, short bursts of stress can reduce such damage and protect our health in some circumstances.
Boosts Brain Power And Learning
Low-level stressors stimulate the production of brain chemicals called neurotrophins and strengthen the connections between neurons in the brain. In fact, this may be the primary mechanism by which exercise (a physical stressor) helps boost productivity and concentration. Short-term psychological stressors (situations that cause stress) can have a similar effect, as well. Plus, animal studies have suggested that the body’s response to stress can temporarily boost memory and learning scores.
There is a well-characterized correlation for how stress hormones relate to learning—specifically, the primary stress hormone, cortisol, improves learning and memory at moderate concentrations compared to low or high concentrations.
Stress Makes You More Resilient
Learning to deal with stressful situations can make future ones easier to manage, according to a large body of research on the science of resilience. Repeated exposure to stressful events gives the chance to develop both a physical and psychological sense of control.
This idea may even hold true at a cellular level. A 2013 University of California San Francisco study found that while chronic stress promotes oxidative damage to our DNA and RNA, moderate levels of perceived daily stress actually seem to protect against it and enhance “psychobiological resilience.”
Physical Stress Can Be Helpful Too
Rigorous exercise causes a “fight or flight” physiological stress response almost identical to stressors that would be considered negative, such as a car accident, but works to enhance rather than suppress your immune system. Studies in humans have shown that a short bout of exercise, such as high-intensity treadmill running, done before a vaccination activates a stress response that can increase the body’s resistance to infection. Similarly, a quick workout prior to surgery or cancer therapy can improve outcomes.
If we lift weights, there’s a certain amount of physiological stress that we’re putting on our body in that moment. Then we take a break and we allow our tissues to recuperate and our bodies actually become stronger through that process.
So, just as overworking your muscles can cause you to be sore and feel exhausted, too much stress (even good stress) can be harmful. Stress is meant to occur in shrot burts to help you cope and overcome certain situations. So learn to use them positively and develop routines in your day to relax, de-stress and recharge your body’s stress-response systems.
Edited By Rachelle Chandraan