Happiness And Stress Aren’t That Far Apart

 

Life in modern society is only becoming more complicated. With increasing complexity, unfortunately, comes increase in stress. In addition to being unpleasant, chronic stress can put you at risk for a number of physical and mental health problems. Not all stress is bad, however. Positive life changes, such as marriage or childbirth, introduce novel sources of stress, but we typically think of these events as life-enriching and positive. Indeed, it is of the utmost importance to be able to distinguish good stress from bad stress.  

Embracing The Good

Stress is not necessarily something to be avoided. It is perfectly reasonable, for example, to be “stressed” if your life is in danger. It is this fight-or-flight mechanism which motivates you to exit a legitimately dangerous situation as quickly and effectively as possible. Just ask a gazelle running from a lion whether or not there are good reasons to be stressed! Indeed, according to Firdaus Dhabhar, PhD and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and director of research at the Stanford Center on Stress & Health, certain instances of short-term stress can be beneficial.  

In fact, short-term stress can produce immediate health benefits. For example, while long-term stress can dampen immune response, short-term stress can activate and enhance it. This is particularly the case during surgery or when receiving a vaccination. This has notable adaptive significance, since your body knows that stress implies a potentially dangerous situation, during which it is more likely to receive an injury, which may require the sort of enhanced immune system your body may require. On a more practical level, stress which is induced by marital problems may heighten attention to potential marital difficulties in need of addressing, which can ensure the longevity of healthy and life-enriching relationships.  

Avoiding The Bad  

Stress qualifies as “bad” when it is so chronic that it begins to have the opposite of its intended effect. In other words, instead of enhancing the fight-or-flight mechanism in a way that allows you to escape a harmful situation, the stress itself may begin to harm the body and brain. Susceptibility to depression, cancer and heart disease, as well as dampened immune response, are associated with such stress. This stress may even negatively impact brain structure and function.  

Reduce Your Stress  

Stress can put even the self-disciplined at risk of resorting to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as alcohol and tobacco use, and excessive junk food consumption. Unfortunately, such behavior puts you at risk for serious health problems, which can, themselves, put you at risk for even greater stress. In light of this risk, it is of the utmost important to adopt healthy coping behavior.  

First, identify your stress triggers. These may include health problems, financial problems, relationship difficulties or occupational stressors. Having identified the relevant sources of stress, think of healthy ways of dealing with them. For example, instead of watching a potentially  stressful news station, it may be more productive to meditate, practice mindfulness, or immerse yourself in nature. It is also important to ensure that you are practicing healthy eating habits, getting enough exercise, and enjoying an adequate amount of sleep.