How can stress be good for you?

It may seem strange to even consider that stress can be good for us. We are always being told about the negative effects of stress and how we should do everything in our power to avoid it. However, the right amount of stress can be good for us.

Good stress is what makes you focus, get things done, up your game, swim or run faster, give it the ‘X’ factor and remember things.

Bad stress makes it impossible to remember, control your emotions or think straight; it messes with your stomach and your sleep and can even cause unpleasant skin conditions and that’s before it gets to the chronic stage!

So it makes sense to try to figure out where it goes wrong for some people and where it goes right for others and perhaps to try to find some techniques to swing the odds in your favour.

When your body senses danger the hypothalamus triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol and the fight or flight instinct. Extra oxygen floods your brain and body, increasing alertness, sharpening senses and galvanising your limbs. In short, you temporarily become superhuman.

People that experience this level of stress feel energised and ready – a bit like after an aerobic workout. They also get the right balance of the two key neurochemicals, dopamine and noradrenaline in the ‘executive functioning’ part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, so the ability to plan, remember and control emotion is optimised.

For those where stress gets out of control, their heart rate becomes erratic, dexterity becomes challenging and the prefrontal cortex gets overloaded. They experience high anxiety, higher emotion and analytical thinking and decision-making goes out the window. Long term they may end up with a host of physical ailments too.

Research has shown that reframing your stress is critical to controlling it and making it work for you. Consider that the butterflies in your stomach just mean you are ready to do that presentation; your nerves just mean you are excited. Your body is stronger, your mind is more alert. When you remove the negative associations with stress your performance goes up.

If you have a tendency to get stressed, recognising the triggers and the signs and taking action before it escalates such as deep breathing, a five-minute meditation and focusing on the positive can help you regain some control. Then remember why your brain is doing this to itself and your body.

Stress can be good for you. It’s just about getting the level right. 

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