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Stress: The Good, Bad and Ugly

Stress: The Good, Bad and Ugly

By Dr. Patrick Lovegrove Medically Reviewed by Lindsay Langley, BSN, RN, CHT
Posted Thursday, August 15th, 2019
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Stress is a condition that many (if not all) people encounter at least once in their life. Whether it’s because of school, work, or relationships, stress can take a toll on your emotional health, and even physical health. Although it can be tempting to simply ignore stress and go on with your life like it’s no big deal, there’s more to stress than just an expression of exhaustion. Stress can take a toll on the body in many ways.

Stress is the body’s normal biological response to the stimulus. It gives your system a burst of energy that triggers the natural “fight or flight” response, enabling your body to react to situations accordingly. This condition can be classified into two types: good stress and bad stress.

What is Good Stress?

Good stress, also known as short-lived stress or acute stress, may provide benefits that can help you perform better. Below are some of the benefits that good stress delivers:

  • Increases Energy
    Acute stress results in a few physiological, neurological, and behavioral changes. For instance, it activates the body’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which releases glucocorticoids — a chemical that promotes energy replenishment and cardiovascular function.
  • Strengthens the Immune System
    In small to moderate doses, stress can also strengthen one’s immune system. Although it has a bad reputation, stress is actually one of the body’s fundamental survival mechanisms. Short-term stress (one that lasts for a few minutes to a few hours) can, in fact, enhance one’s innate and adaptive immune responses.
  • Increases Stress Immunity – Acute stress may help improve a person’s resilience, enabling him or her to respond to other stressful situations that may come his or her way, better.

What is Bad Stress?

When stress becomes chronic (one that lasts for weeks and even months), like a failing marriage or problems at work, it may develop into a health hazard. Unfortunately, this type of condition is often ignored and thus goes on for a long period — to a point where the person becomes used to it and thinks of it as “normal” — not realizing that it’s slowly damaging his or her health.

When you’re chronically stressed, your body constantly stays alert, and over time, this can lead to a number of physical and mental issues.

  • Increases High Blood Pressure
    Exposure to long-term stress is one of the causes of hypertension. Stressful situations — both physical and mental — can cause blood pressure levels to spike.
  • Weakens the Immune System
    Long-term stress suppresses an individual’s immune responses, inducing chronic inflammation and suppressing the function of immunoprotective cells, as a result. This makes one vulnerable to a number of diseases.
  • Causes Skin Problems
    Notice those breakouts whenever you’re cramming before an exam or when there’s an upcoming project deadline and you’re pressed for time? Stress may cause skin problems like acne.
  • Leads to Depression
    Being constantly exposed to stressful environments and situations can cause problems like anxiety and depression.
  • May Cause Drug or Alcohol Abuse
    Exposure to long-term stress can make one more prone to using alcohol or drugs. This is primarily because the effects of these substances can be enticing to a person suffering from depression, looking for a reprieve (albeit temporarily) from their problems. Unfortunately, many of these substances, when consumed even just once, can lead to addiction.

7 Ways to Manage Stress

Stress oftentimes cannot be avoided, which is why it’s vital to be able to manage it. Here are a few ways that you can better manage stress.

  1. Know Your Stressors
    Identify the things that are causing you stress. Keeping a stress journal can help. Once you’ve determined your stressors, see if you can avoid them. For instance, if it’s caused by a person, try to limit the time you spend with him or her.
  2. Accept the Things You Can’t Change
    In cases where the cause of your stress cannot be avoided, accept that it’s beyond your control. Instead of mulling over the things you can’t change, focus on what you can control — like the way you react to the issue, or deciding to see the opportunities when faced with a problem.
  3. Learn How to Say “No”
    A lot of people are stressed because of their inability to refuse a person asking for a favor. Remember, your health matters. Unless it’s really necessary, learn to say “no.”
  4. Stay Organized
    A messy desk, poorly organized schedules, and other disorderly things can be stressful and prevent one from performing at his or her best. Try to organize your work and your environment to ease the strain.
  5. Practice Gratitude
    Being thankful for what you have can give you a more positive outlook. Make gratitude a habit.
  6. Live an Active Lifestyle
    Physical activities like working out can help relieve stress. Studies show that physically active individuals have a better mood compared to sedentary individuals.
  7. Connect with People
    Spending quality time with the people you care for is a great way to manage stress. It releases hormones that counteract the body’s natural “fight or flight” response, and as a result, eases stress.
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About the author

Dr. Patrick Lovegrove