Stress: Good or Bad? You Might be Surprised

Stress-and-Acne-Is-There-a-ConnectionDo you hate stress?

What if you could grow to love it?

Recent research findings might surprise you.

I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that the uncomfortable feeling of stress was an important part of the creative process.

Think back a bit…

Haven’t the most important things in life — your creative triumphs, your most meaningful accomplishments, your proudest moments — been preceded by stress?

You know the signs and symptoms: rapid heart rate, dry mouth, thirst and hyperactivity.

You may have read about the dangerous and even damaging nature of stress on your health. And I’ve often wondered why, if stress is so connected to productivity and creativity and accomplishment, is it damaging to your health.

Here’s your answer — it turns out that stress itself won’t kill you, but the belief that stress is bad for you will.

Stress is Good for You — Really!

A remarkable TED talk by Kelly McGonigal (a public health scientist) spells out the case for embracing stress.

As Kelly explains, stress by itself does lead to the symptoms described above, but it’s only when it’s accompanied by the anxiety that it’s bad for you. That’s when stress can actually contract the blood vessels around your heart. And when those little blood vessels contract, it’s very bad for your long term health.

As if that’s not remarkable enough, there’s more…

Stress Can Even Make You Friendlier

It turns out that stress can actually be good for you. Stress triggers the production of oxytocin, the hormone that gets you to seek out the help of others. This neuro-hormone makes you sociable and friendly. No wonder you seek out others when you’re handling those stressful times.

Stress pushes you to be more connective and connectivity often gives your life its meaning.

The Takeaway: Stress Without Anxiety is Great

The next time you experience the sensations of stress, remember that they are closer to the symptoms of joy and courage and energy than they are to anxiety and fear.

It’s the anxiety and fear that’ll kill you. The joy and courage and energy will keep you alive and thriving.

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Learn to Tell the Difference between Stress and Fear

The way you perceive the symptoms of stress and anxiety (and joy and courage) are remarkably similar. But anxiety constricts your blood flow and stress doesn’t. Pay close attention to your emotional responses.

Tune into the way you experience stress this week. Try to figure out if it’s just building a head of steam to be productive or if something’s triggering your fear response. If it’s the former, enjoy the energy!

Be sure to watch Kelly McGonical’s TED talk to which I owe many of these insights.

What positive stressful experiences have you had recently? Share them with me in the comments.

  • I love this article, and the TED talk. It makes sense that stress and anxiety aren’t the same, and don’t have the same effect. But being laid up with a fractured foot is stressing me, and I haven’t noticed the oxytocin surge yet. Maybe I’m not mixing in enough chocolate??

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      Very funny! (Not your foot, but the chocolate!) Poor you. Sounds like a recipe for anxiety on top of stress….not likely to get the oxytocin surging!