Stress isn’t always the enemy, in fact, it can sometimes be an ally. In certain circumstances, stress can actually help you navigate challenging situations and can have positive effects on health and wellbeing¹, and it’s a side of stress we don’t often talk about. We usually look towards the negative when it comes to stress² but we’re here to shine a spotlight on the bigger picture so you know why it’s important to address chronic stressors, but also have a deeper understanding of some of the benefits that stress can bring.
The upside of stress
There’s no denying that stress can affect us in negative ways. Chronic stress, those frequent sources of stress we come into contact with on a day-to-day basis can have damaging effects on health and cognition when hormones associated with stress are secreted over prolonged periods of time³. This has the potential to dysregulate biological pathways in the brain⁴. Also, midlife psychological stress is associated with an increased risk of dementia - as much as 2.5 times more likely to develop dementia⁵.
The Benefits of Stress
We’re familiar with the bad, but did you know there are positives to stress which if we learn to harness, can actually serve us in the short-term? By becoming familiar with the other side of stress, we’re also better equipped to prevent stress from having a long-term impact on our health. So, here are some of the upsides of stress you may not have known…
The first thing to remember: stress is a natural evolutionary response that helps us respond to threats or danger.
- Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist from Stanford describes how ‘the stress response is your best ally during difficult moments’; our nervous system mobilises energy and enables our bodies and brains to efficiently use this energy so we can adequately respond to a challenge⁶.
Is stress at work beneficial?
- While we tend to view work-related stress with a negative lens, research has found that some stress at work can lead to employees taking the initiative to undertake the appropriate action to acquire skills needed for pressing demands7.
We come together under stress!
- Stress has also been shown to motivate prosocial behaviour, encouraging us to seek support from others in times of difficulty8 and in cases of acute stress, to bring communities together9.
The Benefits of Stress-Related Growth
- Researchers have also documented a phenomenon known as stress-related growth by which stress can positively enhance individuals through fostering awareness, developing better relationships and an increased sense of appreciation and meaning for life10. It suggests that stress can help foster resilience, strength and growth.
The Silver Lining of Stress Benefits
While stress does have its negative effects, particularly in the long term, it can be helpful to view stress in a different light. While we shouldn’t seek to bring more stress into our lives, it’s important to remember that stress is also there to protect us. If we learn to harness it, it can actually power us through challenging situations. It’s about achieving balance in situations in which we don’t tend to get a choice over stress and to highlight that the effects of stress are not predetermined and are influenced by a vast array of factors¹.
How has stress benefitted you?
Think of a situation in which stress has actually served you well or something you may have gained through experiencing stress.