April 12, 2024

Can Stress Be Good For You?

We know what you're thinking - stress? Is it good for you? I don't want to be stressed EVER! 

This Stress Awareness Month, we propose looking at stress from a different perspective: one that helps you understand when stress can benefit you and when stress can do more harm than good. (And yes, an entire month is dedicated to stress, but don't stress about it!)  

One thing to remember about stress is that it is an inevitable part of life. It will make its way into your life, no matter how hard you may try to avoid it, and it comes in many forms. Prolonged or excessive stress can harm our health, including those fitness gains for which you work so hard. However, other forms of stress can be motivating and even beneficial. To better understand the relationship between stress and health, it's crucial to define what stress is and recognize the different types of stress and their effects on our well-being.  


What Is Stress?  

Stress is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as "mental or emotional strain placed on or experienced by a person as a result of adverse or demanding circumstances, especially the pressures of or problems in one's life; a state of feeling tense, anxious, or mentally and emotionally exhausted arising from this." 1 This definition likely conjures up several moments in your life where stress worked against you, making you upset, tired, frustrated, and overwhelmed. When our bodies are stressed, our sympathetic nervous system is activated, increasing our heart rates, breathing, and blood pressure, tightening our muscles, and stimulating the release of hormones that prepare us to fight off what's coming. This activation is commonly referred to as "fight-or-flight mode."   

Stress can present itself in many forms:   

  • Types of StressAcute Stress: Acute stress is short-term and often results from immediate challenges or situations. It can be caused by unexpected events like a tight work deadline, an argument, or a near-miss accident. While acute stress is a natural response that can enhance performance in the short term, chronic exposure to acute stressors can lead to health problems, including increased blood pressure and a weakened immune system.
  • Episodic Acute Stress: Some individuals are more prone to experiencing acute stress frequently. This inclination can be due to their lifestyle, personality, or circumstances. People who regularly find themselves in stressful situations may develop episodic acute stress. It can lead to conditions like tension headaches, chronic anxiety, and even cardiovascular issues.  

  • Chronic Stress: Chronic stress is persistent and long-term. Ongoing life challenges, such as financial problems, complicated relationships, or a demanding job, can cause it. Chronic stress is particularly harmful, as it can lead to a wide range of health issues, including heart disease, depression, and autoimmune disorders.   

  • Mechanical Stress: Stress isn't just a psychological state – mechanical stress is a term used to describe physical stress placed on the body through physical exertion. This includes "physical pressure, strain, or tension on the part of the body, [as well as] load or demand on the function of an organ or system of the body.1" This type of stress is what you'll encounter most when working out, which is beneficial for us, as creating mechanical stress through lifting weights or performing bodyweight exercises can help us become stronger; however, overdoing exercise can increase the risk of injury and keep your nervous system on high-alert, leading to a prolonged state of stress.   

These types of stress can arise from a variety of triggers, and these triggers can differ from person to person. It's important to notice how your body and mind respond to potentially stressful situations to minimize the adverse effects of stress better, so take time to observe your response to stressors.  


Negative Effects on Health  

When it comes to stress, "the dose makes the poison:" when it is constant and unwavering with no relief, the effects can be detrimental to your physical, mental, and emotional health.

  • Physical Health: Stress can damage the body. It can weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to illnesses. Chronic stress can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, and even obesity. It may also exacerbate existing health conditions, such as diabetes and autoimmune disorders.

  • Mental Health: All types of stress can impact mental health. Chronic stress is linked to conditions like anxiety and depression, while episodic acute stress can lead to ongoing tension and irritability. Prolonged exposure to stress can affect cognitive functions, making it difficult to concentrate and make decisions.

  • Behavioral Health: Stress can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as overeating, smoking, or excessive alcohol consumption. These behaviors can further contribute to health problems, including obesity and addiction.  

  • Social Health: Stress can strain relationships, leading to conflicts and communication breakdowns. This, in turn, can create additional emotional stress, perpetuating a cycle of negative impact on overall health.  

Can Stress Be Good For Us  

How Can Stress Be Good For Us? 

While stress is often associated with negative connotations, stress in small bouts may provide a few unexpected benefits under certain circumstances. Positive stress, usually called "eustress," can motivate individuals to achieve their goals and perform at their best. This type of stress arises when individuals feel challenged but capable of coping with their demands. Eustress can enhance focus, increase alertness, and stimulate productivity.2 It prompts individuals to adapt, grow, and develop resilience in the face of challenges. For example, the pressure of a looming deadline can push someone to work more efficiently and creatively, resulting in a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction upon completion. Additionally, experiencing manageable stress levels can strengthen one's ability to handle future challenges, ultimately fostering personal growth and self-confidence.   


What's important to note is how the stressor is making you feel. Does the challenge of increasing your step goal from 6,000 steps to 10,000 steps per day excite you, or does it make you want to give up on your goal? Does lifting weights five days a week leave you with more energy to live your life or less energy? If the challenge motivates you and brings you pleasure when facing it, this type of stress can be beneficial in helping you grow.   


What It All Comes Down To Is Managing Stress  

The longer you live in fight or flight mode, and the more stressors present in your life, the more significant the negative impact that stress will have on your daily life. It can be hard to change your perspective on stress as something that can be positive in your life. However, understanding the various types of stress and their negative and positive effects on health is the first step to managing stress effectively. Here are some strategies to help mitigate the impact of stress on your well-being:  


  1. Manage Your StressIdentify stressors: Recognize the sources of stress in your life and work on reducing or eliminating them when possible.

2. Develop healthy coping mechanisms: Practice stress management techniques like mindfulness, deep breathing, exercise, and relaxation.  
3. Seek support: Don't hesitate to reach out to friends, family, or a mental health professional when dealing with chronic or severe stress.  
4. Prioritize self-care: Ensure you get enough sleep, maintain a balanced diet, and engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation.  


As you learn to manage your stress, you may begin to feel in control of your stressors, and your perception of them may shift from negative to positive. In an article by PsychologyToday.com, the "control theory" behind eustress is based upon the idea that "subjective perception plays a big role in determining the type of stress that will result from an environmental stressor, as well as a person's emotional response to it." 2   


Stress is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon affecting every aspect of our lives, from mental and physical health to relationships. While some stress is unavoidable, understanding the different types of stress and their effects is essential for maintaining well-being. By adopting healthy coping strategies and seeking support when needed, you can mitigate the negative impact of stress and lead a healthier, more fulfilling life by using instances of eustress to your advantage.   


  1. Stress, n.: meaning and use. Oxford English Dictionary. https://www.oed.com/dictionary/stress_n?tab=meaning_and_use

  2. Moore, Catherine. What Is Eustress? A Look At The Psychology And Benefits. PsychologyToday.com, 15 Jan 2019. https://positivepsychology.com/what-is-eustress/#:~:text=More%20so%2C%20the%20release%20of,%2C%20and%20Dombeck%20(2018).

This blog article is a summary of stress and its effects on one’s mental and physical health and is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical or mental health conditions. If you or someone you know is experiencing intense symptoms resulting from stress, please consult a licensed physician or mental health provider for diagnosis and treatment. 

Article contributed by amfamfit

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