Stress is generally defined as a feeling experienced when a person perceives that the demands made of them exceed the personal and social resources they are able to mobilise. Being in a stressful situation hampers the natural homeostatic balance of the body, which means there is an imbalance in the ideal bodily factors like temperature, glucose level in blood stream and so on. As a result, there is an increase in production of certain hormones to bring about the homeostatic balance.
We have all been subjected to varying levels of stress at some point in our lives. Workplace stress, especially, has been proven to be the most prominent form of stress in young people. While some of us can battle it with the help of our inner strength and the support of our loved ones, others succumb to it and suffer anxiety, depression and other disorders. In fact, some even end up as stress-addicts!
Although there are innumerable scholarly articles and research studies about the negative impacts of stress, what remains mostly unexplained is the positive impact of stress.
Studies have found that stress is not necessarily the killer; our reaction to stress is what makes it negative. An American research states that 1,82,000 Americans died prematurely, not from stress, but from the belief that stress is bad for you. Although, it has been proven that excessive chronic stress might be fatal, moderate or low stress can actually be very beneficial. Here is how:
It can enhance empathy
You might have experienced a desire to be around loved ones when you are stressed. The reason for this is the increase in the oxytocin levels in the body. Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal explains, “Oxytocin is a neuro-hormone. It fine tunes your brain's social instincts. It primes you to do things that strengthen close relationships. Oxytocin makes you crave physical contact with your friends and family. It enhances your empathy. It even makes you more willing to help and support the people you care about.”
It can improve your memory
As a natural response to stress, our body produces brain chemicals called neurotrophins. These chemicals help strengthen the connections between neurons and the brain. This helps in the improvement of memory and other cognitive functions.
It can improve your immunity
As a response to stress, the body produces more cortisol. This hormone, when released in small to moderate quantities, improves immunity. However, excess secretion of cortisol might negatively affect the immunity levels of the body.
It helps in child development
According to a study done at John Hopkins University, it was found that mid-maternity stress can actually benefit the child. The study concluded, “Most children of women who reported mild to moderate stress levels during pregnancy actually showed greater motor and developmental skills by age two than those of unstressed mothers.”
It can improve confidence and resilience
When stressful situations are viewed as challenges, we tend to pull up our socks and give it our best shot. Stressful times make us better equipped to face life with more confidence and resilience. This is probably why most defence trainings or combat trainings include a lot of stressful activities in their agenda for the cadets.
Kelly McGonigal concludes her TED talk about stress management saying, “Stress gives us access to our hearts. The compassionate heart finds joy and meaning in connecting with others, and yes, your pounding physical heart, working so hard to give you strength and energy. When you choose to view stress in this way, you're not just getting better at stress, you're actually making a pretty profound statement. You're saying that you can trust yourself to handle life's challenges. And, you're remembering that you don't have to face them alone.”