Sometimes stress gets a bad rap. We are always trying to reduce stress — and for good reason. Numerous studies have been done showing that stress may cause heart problems, reduce the effectiveness of cancer therapies and interfere in other areas of health. However, it is important to note that not all stress is the bad kind. In fact, in some cases stress can be good for you. I was reminded of this when I read a story in Reader’s Digest this month, reporting on research at Ohio State University that may indicate that “good stress” may actually protect against cancer.
This may seem contradictory at first. Stress can encourage cancer and reduce it? The key, though, seems to be in the type of stress that we are talking about. Short-term stress that is manageable appears to be helpful. If you are under a form of stress that you can manage — and that helps you reach your goals or act more efficiently — then stress can be a good thing. Stress starts to become unhealthy when it is prolonged, and when it is managed poorly. Newsweek had a story on good stress last year, and here is what is pointed out in the article:
Sure, stress can be bad for you, especially if you react to it with anger or depression or by downing five glasses of Scotch. But what’s often overlooked is a common-sense counterpoint: in some circumstances, it can be good for you, too. It’s right there in basic-psychology textbooks. As Spencer Rathus puts it in “Psychology: Concepts and Connections,” “some stress is healthy and necessary to keep us alert and occupied.” Yet that’s not the theme that’s been coming out of science for the past few years. “The public has gotten such a uniform message that stress is always harmful,” says Janet DiPietro, a developmental psychologist at Johns Hopkins University. “And that’s too bad, because most people do their best under mild to moderate stress.”
That pretty much sums it up. There is no reason to completely avoid all stress. In fact, remaining always in your comfort zone may actually do more harm than good. You do need to be able to relax, and release negative stress, but occasional bouts with the kind of stress that forces you to react with creativity and energy could be good for you.
Getting out of your comfort zone every now and again won’t hurt you, and it might even help give you a little endorphin boost, helping you feel better when your source of stress is successfully managed. Here are some short-term situations that could actually result in positive stress:
- First-time experiences: Doing something for the first time can be stressful, but it does force you to get out there and manage your stress constructively.
- Preparation for something big: Whether it’s a job interview or a presentation at work, preparing for something big can be stressful. But you might be forced to find new solutions to your problems, and you can get through the situation.
- Events: Weddings, birthday parties and other events can be sources of stress. However, once you get through it using your problem solving skills, planning events can turn into growing experiences.
- Exercise: Exercise puts stress on your body. You don’t want to overdo it, but putting your body under a little stress with physical activity can be a good way to get healthier.
- Public Performance: Nervousness and stress ahead of performing on stage or giving a speech can also be healthy.
All of the above items are generally short-term situations that can be managed. These types of stress can help you take your abilities to the next level, and maybe even offer health benefits.