Most people want to avoid stress at all costs. A Work Stress Survey found that 83% of Americans are stressed out at work—a 10% increase from the previous year. If you add personal issues, bills and unexpected setbacks into the mix, stress is something to avoid like the plague.
Or is it? Clearly, too much stress can be physically and mentally harmful. However, experts say the right balance of it can help you attain peak performance and enhance mental clarity while teaching you how to better manage your life. Here are some ways in which stress can actually be good for you.
Can serve as a wake-up call
California resident Carl Weissensee admits he used to be a stress addict. He thrived on always being on the go, often sleeping as little as four hours nightly. “I don’t believe it’s possible to do a good job without a certain amount of stress. It’s necessary to get things done,” says Weissensee, who is a home builder.
However, too much of it led to his heart attack, forcing him to reassess his life and make healthy changes. Stress taught him to slow down, engage in deep breathing and other relaxation techniques, and encouraged him to face his worries rather than letting them build up in his head and propelling his damaging stress cycle. As a result, he’s learned how to balance his stress levels.
Obviously, it’s important to manage stress before it gets to the point of having a heart attack, but his lesson proves that stress can be a wake-up call. If you do experience a health setback due to stress then take a tip from Weissensee—take steps to remove stress from your life.
Improves brain power
According to stress expert Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum (author of “Real Cause, Real Cure”), stress can quickly put your brain into problem-solving mode. For example, the stress of an earlier deadline or impromptu task can improve memory, give you a burst of energy and increase overall alertness. Ever feel as though you can work faster and more efficiently when you’re thinking on your feet? That’s stress going to work for you.
Bolsters immunity and has anti-aging benefits
While the image of a stressed-out person typically involves someone with deep frown lines whose health is on a downward spiral, experts say that certain amounts of stress may actually improve appearance and health. According to one study, short term episodes of stress (e.g. giving a speech) can bolster your immune system.
It was determined that the stress hormone cortisol is beneficial to health in small doses. However, chronic stress releases too much cortisol and is, therefore, more detrimental.
Some scientists even suggest that small amounts of stress allow your body to increase its focus on antioxidant abilities, more effectively fighting harmful free radicals. Free radicals can contribute to tissue damage, disease, and aging, but it’s been found that sporadic doses of stress are actually necessary to combat this damage.
While it sounds contrary to the “old-before-their-time” image that people typically associate with stress, little bits of stress may play a role in maintaining a youthful appearance.
Self-insight and the chance to create a better life
By paying attention to how you react to stress, it’s possible to make changes to improve your life. For example, you may find that you almost always behave a certain way when you’re confronted with a challenge. Your reaction can provide insight into yourself, allowing you to learn more about what motivates or upsets you.
Along the way, you may find some surprises; perhaps you have more confidence than you assume, or maybe you’re prone to angry outbursts that you need to work on. Either way, stress can enhance self-knowledge, shedding light on your personality and helping you to carve out a path that puts you on track for life improvements.
Related: 8 Common Myths About Stress
Stress is inevitable in life, so pausing to think before reacting is crucial, as are techniques to manage it such as deep-breathing or exercise. Do you best to avoid chronic stress—when your life becomes nothing but one big stress saga, it can upset your physical and psychological well-being. However, in small busts, stress has tremendous potential to help you better manage your life, boost your health and improve your ability to think on your feet.