Can Stress Possibly Be Good For You?
Stress is often seen as an exclusively negative situation: Homework deadlines pile up with multiple classes, family drama potentially takes its toll, and busy extracurricular schedules wear us thin. We end up exhausted.
Stress can come in two different ways according to The American Institute of Stress: “distress,” which refers to the negative feelings of stress such as familial issues or a breakup, and “eustress,” which refers to stress from positive things such as starting a new job. There are also two different ways in which stress can be felt. Chronic stress, which is defined as “the physiological or psychological response to a prolonged internal or external stressful event,” according to the American Psychological Association, has been linked to unhealthy eating, skin problems, and even an increased likelihood of chronic disease. Acute stress, which is more common, is the fight or flight response that we naturally feel as a form of defense against change and tasks that require excess additional effort in our everyday lives.
In small doses, however, experts say that stress can actually have fairly positive effects. “Moderate levels of daily, manageable stress may help protect against oxidative damage, which is linked to aging and disease,” Psychoneuroendocrinology found in a 2013 study. Some upsides of experiencing stress include enhanced motivation, increased resilience and growth, indication of a more meaningful life, and even the promotion of bonding.
While a busy life full of homework and chaos can feel overwhelming and sometimes decrease motivation to get started, a little bit can go a long way when it comes to time management. “I have written some of my best essays when I put them off until the last minute. The drive to get it done well comes when I start to get stressed about not getting it done,” says Dan Crowley, senior at LHS. The stresses of a deadline can help people focus and pay more attention simply due to the fact that time is running out. When it comes time to do a big project that you had put off, you realize that it is time to grind it out. “We have all had the experience saying, ‘oh I’ve got to get such and such done’ but not being able to find the motivation to do it until we are stressed because it is due the next day...,” says Kathleen Gunthert, a professor of psychology at American University as seen in Time Magazine. “That fight or flight response can kick us into gear sometimes.”
Another way in which stress can be positive despite it’s overwhelming quality is through its development in our growth and mental toughness. It forces us to problem-solve and build confidence in skills that we’ll need for the future. Having to work through stress and make important decisions under that stress will always be a crucial skill in life. Overwhelming situations come in all shapes and sizes, so what may be stressing you out now, could actually better prepare you for what may stress you out later. With increased resilience and confidence in handling situations causing stress, one will feel less threatened in those situations going forward. After facing a challenge, you will feel more equipped to handle it in the future, since you have already experienced it.
One of the most surprising benefits of stress is that it can help build interpersonal relationships, which are key to overall health. “Knowing someone is going through the same kind of stress that you’re going through, is reassuring. We’re all stressed... but together,” says Jenna Iaciofano, another senior at Lincoln High. When people feel understood by another person, they feel less alone and less isolated, especially when it is so easy to become bogged down by the pressures of stress. School for example, is a common place for people to talk about their stresses with others, which actually can help build compassion. By opening up to one another, people feel better because they can relate to each other’s struggles and are able to validate their feelings, creating a positive from the often negative experiences of stress. Talking to friends and family can build and strengthen relationships too. “A lot of our friendships or family relationships wouldn’t be the same if we hadn’t supported each other through some of the tougher times,” says Gunthert.
A life without stress isn’t necessarily better. Take, for example, a student in Lincoln High School who plans on going to college. The application process is competitive, the coursework can be challenging and after graduation, transitioning from a high school setting to a college one can be a learning process. However, in the end, one accomplishes something to be proud of. The things that we are most proud of, that bring the most meaning in our lives, are hard. If we took out the stress, we’d also likely take away much of the meaning in our lives.