by Susan Schachter, MSRDN September 14, 2023 2 min read
In previous versions of the Circulatory, we've discussed the impact of stress on blood pressure and overall health. Stress is an inevitable part of life. Given this, it's not surprising that some research suggests that viewing stress differently – not as a "doer of bodily harm" but rather as a "helpful friend" – can improve our health outcomes.
Studies indicate that stress may only harm your health if you believe it will. The types of stress these studies focus on are "acute", "short-term", and "moderate". Chronic stress, however, is a different matter, which we'll discuss later.
Here are some notable findings suggesting why we might consider stress our "helpful friend":
The University of California, Berkeley found that certain levels of stress can propel you forward, enabling you to rise to a challenge. In rats, stress seemed to stimulate stem cells to develop into new neurons. Two weeks later, these matured neurons seemed to enhance the rats' performance in learning tests. They concluded that intermittent stressful events might keep the brain more alert and improve cognitive performance.
Stanford University discovered that stress can bolster the immune system.
A study from the University of Freiburg showed that stressed individuals often exhibited more pro-social behaviors, such as trust and sharing.
Separate research from the University of Buffalo and New Mexico State University found that stress can enhance working memory.
At the University of Maine, researchers noted that participants who felt more stressed performed better on tasks that required intuitive decisions rather than overthinking.
Research from the National Center for Health Statistics explored the relationship between stress perception and its impact on health. Interestingly, those who experienced high stress but didn't perceive it as harmful had the lowest risk of premature death compared to other groups.
Another interesting point is about oxytocin, often referred to as the "cuddle hormone". Released during stressful events, oxytocin plays a role in social bonding and stress reduction, even helping relax blood vessels and potentially reducing high blood pressure.
Recognizing these effects can lead us to appreciate the intricate systems of the human body. By reframing our perspective on stress, we can see it as a potentially beneficial force in our lives.
For those dealing with chronic stress, it's essential to have stress management tools:
Engage in physical activities you enjoy, whether it's walking, playing tennis, going to the gym, or dancing in your room.
If you're new to meditation, several apps can guide you.
Consider talk therapy. This could mean seeing a professional or simply chatting with a friend.
Take proactive steps to address and change stressors in your life. This might involve discussing concerns at work or home, changing jobs, or seeking help when needed.
Plan enjoyable activities. Regularly scheduling even small events can make a significant difference, such as taking art, voice, or language lessons.
Get involved in a cause you're passionate about. The book "Wonder Drug" by Stephen Trzeciak, M.D. and Anthony Mazzarelli, M.D. delves into the benefits of helping others.
In conclusion, let's embrace the idea of stress as a helpful ally. Here's to your health!
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