Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Why Some Stress Is Good for You

It seems like we hear the phrase “stressed out” more and more every day.  With all the new technologies we have, we are constantly bombarded with stressors that basically overload our systems.  And around the holidays is often the worst in terms of stress! With not enough relaxation, this kind of lifestyle can lead to high blood pressure and a whole slew of other health problems. 

Space-filling model of the cortisol molecule, ...
Space-filling model of the cortisol molecule, a steroid hormone that controls the body's response to stress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It may seem difficult to believe when we're completely bombarded with stressors, but the stress reaction originally came about as a beneficial response.  Early man developed what we call the “flight or fight” instinct in response to stressors.  If a person is faced with a stressor, they produce a hormone called adrenaline which helps them either run away from danger or fight back against an attack.  For longer term stressors, our body produces a hormone called cortisol, which acts the same but lasts much longer. 

You've probably hear a lot about how bad stress is for your health, but even in today's busy world, stress is still a beneficial and sometimes vital part of our lives.  Imagine you’re walking down the street and a car comes barreling towards you.  Immediately your body triggers a stress response, releases adrenaline, and leaves you pumped and ready to jump out of the way of the car.  If not for stress, our reactions would remain slow and we sometimes wouldn’t be able to get out of dangerous situations fast enough.

While too much stress can keep you from accomplishing your goals, small amounts of stress help us accomplish what we need to.  Just take the example of the average college student.  They may have all semester to get a paper done, but they’re often just finishing up the night before. Then the stress response takes over at the last minute.  At this point the body produces cortisol, which helps the student handle the stressful situation and get the paper done.  If not for this kind of stress, we might not get much done.  Let’s face it, stress is one of the greatest motivators there is. 

Spc. Kay Izumihara, an Occupational therapist ...
Spc. Kay Izumihara, an Occupational therapist with the JTF-GTMO combat stress team. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The real difference between good stress, also called eustress, and "bad" stress, is what we do with the stressors we face.  If you’re stressed about a looming deadline, try to put a positive spin on it.  Think “this is making me energized to get my work done well” rather than worrying that it’s just too soon and you just can’t get it done.  Let stress motivate you, not worry you - it is much healthier to think of it this way.

Because of our busy, hectic lives, it’s almost inevitable that we’ll eventually let the stress get to us.  While cortisol release is good in the short term, in the long term, it causes serious health problems.  When you feel you’re starting to stress out, it’s important to take steps to relive the stress instead of just stewing.  By relaxing ourselves, we stop releasing cortisol and produce calming hormones.  Try Yoga, meditation, or aerobic exercise.  This will help you relieve the stress instead of letting it worry you.

While you can’t stop all the stress, you can live a better life by dealing with stress in a healthy manner. For more on this, be sure to check back Thursday for a fascinating video on how the way you view stress impacts your health!

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