Stressful situations are everywhere, and for most of us, there is no avoiding stress. Job loss, a death in the family, financial problems, a fight with your spouse, or a car accident can cause it; even events that are cause for celebration, like a birthday, receiving an award or promotion, and reaching a milestone can all cause stress. These things are all inevitable.
News report after news report seems to paint stress in a negative way, claiming that it’s bad for your health. They say stress causes weight gain, anxiety, and heart disease—and even that it can kill you.
Yes, to a point, many of these claims are correct; stress is indeed something to be taken very seriously and reduced to a point.
But what about the benefits of stress? There is actually a positive side to stress that often gets very little attention. Yes, you read it right: believe it or not, stress can be a good thing.
The Benefits of Stress
1. Stress increases focus
Stress increases cortisol and adrenaline levels in the body, greatly improving the fight or flight reaction. This is the feeling that typically comes over you in a dangerous situation in which your body is trying to protect you.
Your heart beats faster, your breaths per minute increase, you become more aware of your surroundings and your body is ready to fight. If someone was chasing you down the street with a knife, it’s this fight or flight reaction that would automatically kick in to protect you.
Too much stress can overload the body of adrenaline and cortisol, often times leading to anxiety and a host of other problems. However, in small levels, the release of adrenaline and cortisol into the body can in fact be a good thing.
Many individuals seem to function better when slightly stressed. Adrenaline can improve both attention and cognitive functioning at optimal levels.
Think of a time when something big was on the line. Perhaps it was a speech you had to give, a five foot putt you had to sink for the club championship or a college final; all create certain amounts of stress.
And while many of these situations are filled with pressure, the increased stress makes the performer focus that much more. In all of these instances, if your body wasn’t producing extra levels of adrenaline and cortisol, you wouldn’t be as ready to slay the dragon in front of you.
Related: How to Manage Stress without Drugs
2. Practice makes perfect—even with stress
Small amounts of stress present the opportunity for the body to recuperate and can teach an individual stress fighting techniques. Learning these defense mechanisms is actually good in the long run because practice makes perfect – so you can fall back on the times you overcame stress to push forward when you feel as if stress is overtaking your body.
It’s like a regular exercise regimen that reaps many long-term benefits.
3. Stress can increase your confidence
Stress can build confidence. Once you learn to successfully navigate stressful situations, you build the confidence that no matter what the situation, you know you can weather the storm.
Stress presents two options: it can be a major disruption in your life, or you can learn to deal with it in a way that enhances you, makes you mentally stronger and ready to handle everything that life throws your way.
Everyone handles stress differently, yet some people seem more predisposed than others to handling it in a negative way. The physical symptoms overtake them and eliminate them from the game, while others thrive on stress and can endure that much more of it.
However, you can use stress to your benefit. After all, stress can increase focus, help you learn stress-fighting techniques, and even help you build confidence. Don’t let stress be your enemy—let it be your friend.
Take our quiz here to find out how stressed you are.
Prakash Masand MD is a former consulting professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center, and president and CEO of Global Medical Education.
Photo by jmawork