It doesn't take a medical degree to understand that stress can be bad for you. Pretty much all of us have read articles talking about the toll long-term stress can take on your body, from heart disease to headaches to insomnia.
But those with actual medical training say the picture, when it comes to stress, is a lot more complicated than that. Yes, chronically experiencing high levels of stress is going to damage your body. But some stress, research shows, is a good thing.
After all, as Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino has reminded professionals worried about the impact of their high pressure jobs, the opposite of stress is actually boredom. Experience too little stress, and you're unlikely to be performing at your peak.
But it's not just that a little stress keeps you engaged in life and gets you fired up for important tasks. As blog Wise Bread recently pointed out, stress, in the correct dosage, is actually good for your body too. While no one is arguing that stress persisting over weeks, months or even years is healthy, "everyday pressures you deal with at work aren't necessarily a bad thing," according to Wise Bread. Here's why:
Short-term stress is actually good for your immune system.
As we all know, stressful situations trigger our flight-or-fight response. But what's less well understood, Wise Bread claims, is that, "according to a study by the Stanford University School of Medicine, the fight-or-flight response activated by short-term stress... promotes stronger immune function, which makes it easier for your body to ward off and fight infections."
Short-term stress can actually protect against chronic stress.
Short, sharp bursts of stress don't just boost your immune system, over time they also boost your ability to cope with high-pressure situations, which makes you less likely to suffer the ill effects of chronic stress.
"The first time you come up against a particular situation, you might crumble or think you don't have strength to handle the hurdle. But the more you face the problem and overcome the stressor, the easier it is to cope in the future," points out the post. "If you toughen up and develop positive strategies to manage your time and emotions, you're less likely to suffer from chronic stress."
Stress may even help you live longer.
"A study conducted by the Indiana University found that 'employees in stressful positions were a third less likely to die than those with less strenuous jobs,'" reports Wise Bread. Why? The answer seems to be that while those is the biggest, most stressful jobs experience the most pressure, they also tend to have a good amount of control over their days and destiny, and that's more important than constant mellowness for your health.
The bottom line seems to be that while chronic stress from unresolved life or work tensions, or from an inability to control your own life, is clearly very bad for you, so is meandering through your working life with little engagement or emotional arousal. Periodic stress that's associated with trying hard to accomplish meaningful things -- unpleasant though it can be in the moment -- will probably only contribute to your overall mental and physical health.
Do you worry that your stress is having a negative impact on your health?