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When is Stress a Good Thing?

by Melanie Gallo, PhD

People think about stress as bad, something they need to learn to cope with, a culprit for many health issues. But, did you know that stress can have a positive effect on your life?

Sometimes working long hours and going through tough times can actually be good for you. I know! For me to be a WorkLifeJoy coach it probably sounds like I have lost my mind but bare with me. Keep reading to understand why.

The Difference Between Good and Bad Stress

Saying stress is good or bad is an incomplete statement, because it misses the explanation. Chronic stress is a bad type of stress, which can take a toll on your physical and mental health.

Prolonged feelings of tiredness, high blood pressure, anxiety and other symptoms of chronic stress require treatment and care.

Moderate stress puts you in a state of high responsiveness and helps you deal with various situations, so your problem solving-skills can emerge.

Good stress feels like excitement and triggers the reactions in your body even if there isn't a real threat. It is the type of stress that occurs in particular situations, and its effects stop once the situation passes.

Check the following section to understand the potential benefits of stress.

Healthy Stress Benefits

The easiest way to illustrate what healthy stress is, is using a work or school deadline example. Before the deadline exceeds, you are in a state of great alertness, focused, and motivated to complete the task.

Healthy Stress Helps you Cope with Infections

When you feel stressed, the chemical reactions in your body are different from what is happening while you relax. A sudden and short-term stress, like a deadline, causes low production of the stress hormone. It further induces the release of a chemical that improves your immune system.

Think about it for a second, were you ever sick before the deadline? Or do you get sick as soon as you hand over the paper? Once the stress passes, your body relaxes, and your immune system doesn't get a booster dose.

It is the primary difference between chronic and healthy stress. Chronic stress weakens you and can compromise your immune system, while healthy stress maintains your immune response.

Healthy Stress Strengthens You

Going through occasional episodes of stress helps build resilience towards situations you cannot control. In the long run, it can help prevent chronic stress.

Healthy stress teaches you how to overcome different obstacles, and which point of view to take on troublesome situations. It will train you to build an automatic response and reduce the stress over similar situations in the future.

For example, the first time your boss gave you negative feedback, you felt blue and were stressed out. Next time, you can use it as a tool to upgrade your skills!

Healthy Stress is a Mental Workout

Low doses of healthy stress help keep your mind sharp. The nervousness you feel in your stomach activates some brain activities that wouldn't be active if everything was alright.

Healthy stress improves the connection between brain cells, similar to what lifting weight does to your muscles. If you lift too much weight, you can get injured. Low weight doesn't have any effect on your muscles.

It is the reason you are more productive when you feel stressed and why you make fewer mistakes when you work under strict, last-minute deadlines.

Balance is the Key

If you feel the excitement every day and you work under a lot of pressure for a long time, it isn't healthy stress. It is chronic tension that only lowers your achievements and compromises your health. But, occasional roller coaster rides and unexpected situations are good for you!

Can you recognize good from bad stress? How often are you stressed? Please share your thoughts on healthy stress in the comments!

I’m Melanie Gallo, Ph.D., a WorkLife Psychology coach and writer specializing in personality and thinking habits. I help today’s leaders and their team members define their WorkLifeJoy, then help them discover why they don't have it, why they need it, how to get it, and how to keep it. Get in touch directly or download my free Coach2GO app today.


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