There are hundreds of articles about stress and the negative effects that stress has on us and our health, but many fewer have been written about the positive side effects of “healthy stress.”
The disparity between different types of stress would of course warrant more attention on the negative side effects. After all it is much easier to identify certain variables and attempt to limit them, whereas introducing or even encouraging other stressful situations can be a tricky thing to accommodate.
For clarification, we are defining stress in accordance with the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “one of bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium.”
The operative word here is “alter” in reference to equilibrium. If your stasis is out of alignment it is likely the result of the one of two things:
In addition to behavioral differences there are also some obvious things that will make finding balance much easier. These include limiting drug and alcohol use as well (this includes caffeine and tobacco) as well as having a balanced diet and ensuring you get enough sleep.
The question then becomes what constitutes healthy stress, and why would someone pursue stress at all?
Stress can be incredibly healthy and beneficial in the form of exercise. Stress has been known to not only boost physical performance but also has positive effects on our immune systems. Stanford Medicine tracked the trajectories of key immune cells in response to short-term stress and traced, and found that stress enhanced our immune readiness.
Again, we are aiming for balance. Over-exercising can lead to a whole different set of health problems -make sure you don't over do it.
For most of us the primary benefits that healthy stress can ignite mostly take the form of mental performance and mental preparedness.
According to The Rockefeller University, stress can improve your memory. Scientists believe this is a remnant of our brain development associated with our “fight or flight” response. It is this reason why you can seemingly accomplish complex tasks while on “autopilot” during the heat of battle, like acing a final that is worth half your grade and then seemingly forgetting all that knowledge only days later under casual circumstances.
Healthy stress can also lead to higher amounts of creativity when experienced in short bursts. While more data is needed to fully understand the effects of stress and creativity Kristin Byron, Shalini, Khazanchi, and Deborah Nazarian noted in Journal of Applied Psychology that low evaluative contexts increased creative performance.
This is why we can create groundbreaking solutions to unusual problems at the last minute with remedies that seemed to come out of nowhere.
However, it is pointed out that the results suggest that stressors’ effect on creativity is more complex than previously assumed. This means we are once again brought back to the importance of balance in how we engage our daily routines.
I will save the stress relief suggestions for another time, but to instill a slight notion: just because you are stressed out, doesn't mean that it is a bad thing. It is just an art of finding balance with the good, the bad, and the ugly.