Stress is generally viewed as a negative force in our lives, something to be avoided at all costs. It can have terrible effects on both our physical and mental health, and it can make life’s challenges feel overwhelming and unbearable.
However, stress can be good for us in certain situations.
What Is Stress?
Stress is the body’s natural response to any demand or challenge. When your stress response is activated, your body releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can increase heart rate, blood pressure, and energy levels. This is known as the “fight or flight” response, and it can be beneficial in certain situations, such as when you need to react quickly to a dangerous situation.
However, when this response is triggered too frequently or for extended periods of time, it can take a toll on the body. Your “fight or flight” response is not meant to be constantly activated. Responding to stress causes your body to redirect energy and resources away from “less-essential” or “non-emergency” systems (such as digestion, healing, and sleep) toward functions that are needed more urgently (like gearing up your arm and leg muscles to fight or run away, and fueling your brain to focus and think fast). So if stress persists for an extended period of time, those peripheral systems may become deprived and damaged.
Chronic stress is associated with a variety of health problems, including obesity, anxiety, depression, heart disease, dementia, weakened immune function, and sleep disorders.
Types of Stress
Instead of thinking of stress as either good or bad, it may be more helpful (and more accurate) to categorize it as either acute stress and chronic stress.
Acute stress is short-term stress that is triggered by a specific event or situation. Chronic stress is long-term stress that is caused by ongoing and persistent challenges or demands.
Stress can also be categorized in terms of how well it is being managed and coped with. Everyone experiences stress to some degree. It’s an inevitable part of growing, earning a living, maintaining relationships, and raising a family.
When an individual has healthy ways of dealing with stress, they are generally able to meet life’s demands without becoming overwhelmed.
Stress becomes especially harmful when it is unacknowledged, unmanaged, or managed in unhealthy ways (such as alcohol or drug abuse, violent outbursts, or self-harm).
Good stress can motivate and energize us. It is the stress that we feel when we are excited or nervous about something or when we are challenged to do our best.
Good stress can help us to perform better and achieve our goals. It can also help us to feel more alive and engaged in our lives.
Examples of good stress include:
● Pre-performance anxiety: The nervousness and excitement we feel before a performance or presentation can help us to focus and do our best.
● Exercise: Exercise is a form of stress on the body that can improve our physical and mental health. The stress imposed on your muscles inspires tissue growth and restructuring that leads to increased strength and improved blood flow.
● Meeting a deadline: The pressure to meet a deadline can help us to focus and work harder to get the job done.
● A new challenge: Taking on a new challenge can be stressful, but it can also be exciting and rewarding. It can be an opportunity to explore new and better ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.
● A new relationship: The early stages of a relationship (any kind of relationship) can provoke all sorts of intense and stressful emotions. But this stress can often inspire us to better ourselves and connect on a deeper level.
How to Manage Stress
There are a number of ways to manage stress in a healthy way. Here are a few tips:
● Exercise regularly: Physical activity can help to reduce stress and improve overall health. Aim for at least 20-30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each day.
● Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep can increase stress levels, so it’s important to get enough rest. Aim for a consistent 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
● Practice relaxation techniques: Deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation can all help to reduce stress.
● Be creative: Creative art activities (painting, writing, music, dancing, knitting, etc.) can be incredibly relaxing and therapeutic. Creativity can also provide an outlet for understanding, expressing, and transforming your thoughts and emotions.
● Spend time in nature: Go for a hike in the wilderness or even just sit on a bench in a park. Watch the birds fly around. Listen to the sounds of nature. Natural environments can provide a gentle and stimulating distraction from the stresses of your everyday life.
● Seek support: Talking to a friend, family member, or therapist can help to reduce stress.