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We Hate It, But Stress May Be Good for You

Did you know that stress may be good for you? Of course, we've all seen it produce good results when we're approaching something we're afraid to do, and then it turns out, it wasn't so bad. But, as we all know, stress can be annoying, upsetting, even deadly, over time.

A new study explains the difference between good and bad stress and how to tell when you are in danger of overload, according to

Stress is a physical and psychological reaction to a demand, and that demand can be anything, says Safia Debar, MBBS, a stress management expert at Mayo Clinic Healthcare in London, according to Stress that is good for us and may even give us a sense of well-being is eustress, the opposite of distress. The same event—for example, getting married—might provoke either one, Dr. Debar says.

True for me. After 10 years of pressuring my husband to get married, the day of our wedding, I thought, what am I doing? Happily, 30 years later, I find I was right.

The good part is that t can make us not allow people to take advantage of us, like my mother-in-law who said, "You'd be so pretty if you just lost weight." But there's always the downside, when I complained to a boss that my paychecks were always late. And he fired me.

Here's some of the physical changes that may occur when you perceive a threat:

  • The sympathetic nervous system and production of the primary stress hormone, cortisol, activate.

  • Thinking becomes negative as you experience or anticipate something bad. Attention becomes hyperfocused on what is happening.

  • The heart, lungs and muscles prepare for you to fight or run. There is increased heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate as the body needs to deliver more oxygen to cells. Muscles tense.

  • The digestive and reproductive systems aren't needed, so their activities slow.

  • The immune system turns its attention from fighting microscopic invaders such as viruses or cancer cells and goes into an inflammatory mode, increasing its production of proteins called cytokines that adjust this process.

But there are ways around this. Exercise. Surround yourself with positive people. Don't watch the news. Watch comedies instead. A lot of stress comes from how we perceive it. Of course, if you're about to be fired, it's hard not to feel stress. But it's the overload that really hurts us. If you're under stress for a long period of time, you may need to rethink what you're doing, and pursue ways that are different.

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