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Why The Right Kind Of Stress Is Good For You?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Mahmoud Abudeif, Jul 18, 2021.

  1. Mahmoud Abudeif

    Mahmoud Abudeif Golden Member

    Mar 5, 2019
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    Stress has a bit of a bad reputation. Let’s get its dark side out of the way. We know that stress affects our bodies, moods, and behaviors. It’s a documented source of headache, muscle pain, and stomach upset. Stress drives anxiety, restlessness, and feelings of overwhelm. It forces some to over- or under-eat, to abuse substances, or withdraw. Furthermore, there’s seemingly no human biological system spared from stress. A Frontiers in Human Neuroscience study found that 75-90% of human diseases can be linked to activation of the stress system.

    But that’s just one side of the story–the side that grabs headlines in the popular press and the majority of studies in clinical and scientific research. As any physician or pharmacist will tell you, the dose makes the poison. Appropriate amounts of stress can strengthen our bodies, minds, and build stores of resilience. However, in order to reap the benefits, we must reframe our relationship to stress, research shows.

    The two sides of stress

    Stress’ dark side (the one we’re always hearing about) is distress. Distress is stress in excess–what we mean when we say we’re stressed out. Distress often gives rise to the physical and psychological symptoms we often associate with stress, including irritability, headaches, or insomnia, to name a few.

    Then, there’s the light side of stress: eustress. The prefix, eu-, can be defined loosely as good or well. You might recognize it from words such as euphoria, or eureka. Eustress can be positive, helpful, or motivating. It drives us to improve, strive to reach goals, and persevere through difficulties.

    While we experience two types of stress, they’re modulated by the same neurological pathways: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The SNS is part of the autonomic nervous system, which regulates involuntary responses, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and pupil dilation. If a tiger were to spring out of the corner of the room while you were reading this sentence, the SNS would coordinate an automatic response, which might include elevated heart rate, increased blood flow to your muscles, and increased respiration to supply your brain with more oxygen.

    This, unfortunately, is where the trouble starts. To the SNS, the tiger and something like a difficult case are similar and generate a similar biological response (of course, the severity will vary from person to person). However, with enough training, we can reframe how we relate to stress.

    Learning from stress

    While a certain amount of stress in life is unavoidable, we can learn to better harness the transformative power of eustress. Let’s use medical education and residency as examples. Many physicians cite residency and medical school as some of the most stressful periods of their lives. But, a 2019 Medical Education study shows us that we can reframe our relationship to stress to promote learning in high-stakes, clinical environments.

    The researchers wrote that we must differentiate between stress (a response) and a stressor (an event). By emphasizing stressors in clinical education (or perhaps the day-to-day work of a doctor), the physician has some control over their feelings about the event, and the chance to reframe the event as a learning opportunity.

    “If we promote the notion that some stress may actually be beneficial for learning and consider the state of eustress as an important contributor to stress-related learning and growth, we can regard stress as beneficial,” they wrote.

    These findings were echoed in a 2019 University of Texas at Austin study. Researchers worked with a group of 236 undergraduate students. The treatment group watched videos that explained how stress can enhance the learning experience. Participants in the control group and the intervention group received the same stress-mindset assessment at the end of the study. Those who watched the videos had higher stress-mindset scores.

    “These results suggest that video-based content can influence students’ overall beliefs about stress toward a view that stress can be enhancing,” the researchers wrote.

    Some stress may keep you sharp

    Some may crave a stress-free life. But a study published earlier this year in Emotion highlights the mixed benefits of stress-free living.

    Researchers worked with a group of 2,804 respondents between the ages of 25-75 years. Among the group, 10% reported having no stressors within the last 8 days. The researchers identified some patterns among this group. Generally, they were older, unmarried men. Furthermore, they were less likely to be employed, receive or give emotional support, or “experience positive daily events.”

    On one hand, the stress-free group reported higher levels of well-being and fewer chronic conditions. However, they also had lower levels of cognitive function. It would seem that while less stress may make you physically healthier, the correlating isolation may take a cognitive toll.

    “Findings suggest that daily stressors may serve as a proxy to engagement in social activities, where a lower level of engagement is related to better physical and emotional well-being but lower levels of cognitive functioning,” the researchers wrote.

    Exercise as eustress

    There are countless ways that exercise benefits the human body. Add creating a source of eustress to the list. In one form, exercise is a physiological source of eustress. As James Nathan Cobley explains in Oxidative Stress, published in 2020, exercise is a source of oxidative eustress for the human body. It generates a hormetic response by upregulating the body’s endogenous antioxidant enzymes.

    Exercise also represents a source of psychological eustress for the body. For example, a 2016 meta analysis, Published in Mood and Anxiety Disorders, found that exercise looks to be a promising adjunct treatment for mood disorders. Furthermore, a 2020 Studies in Sports Humanities study suggests that exercise may help manage feelings of distress.

    “Exercise appears to be a practicable treatment for coping with stress and improving mental

    health among adults,” researchers wrote. “Providing people with professional support to identify their exercise preferences and goals, as well as identifying their available stress coping strategies, may enable them to overcome psychological barriers, and maintain motivation towards regular physical activity.”

    • There are two sides to stress: Eustress and Distress.
    • Distress is commonly associated with the negative effects of stress on health and well-being.
    • But Eustress helps support mental and physical health.
    • Reframing the trials of education and learning as eustress may enhance the learning experience.
    • Eustress associated with maintaining relationships may boost mental acuity.
    • Exercise, a form of eustress, facilitates the body’s hormetic response, and helps us cope with distress.

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