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The truth about stress: can it ever be good for you?

Modern living can be incredibly stressful, with many people feeling that the pressures placed upon them are only increasing. Indeed, roughly 55,000 Irish workers are affected by some form of stress-related illness every year, while 1 in 3 workers believe they are more stressed than they were just two years ago.

However, certain levels of warranted stress are not only normal, they’re beneficial. We need to separate this short-term, productive stress  – which performs several roles in the general functioning of the body – from the chronic stress that can lead to illness, anxiety and depression.

What’s the difference?

Chronic stress means you are experiencing high levels of stress all the time. Your body is constantly in a state of ‘fight or flight’ and this has lots of negative implications. Feelings of anxiety rise and you are almost constantly overwhelmed. This can cause problems with sleep, appetite and your general long-term mental health. 

Short term stress is exactly that – a transient thing. This stress lasts for a short period of time, from a few minutes to a few hours, before passing. It’s often linked to a high-pressure event. A good example of this would be the nervous energy you feel just before an important deadline on a project.

What are the benefits of this short-term stress?

There is a reason we have a stress system in the first place. When we’re stressed, our body will produce more adrenaline as part of the ‘fight or flight’ response. One effect of this is that blood is directed to important organ systems such as the brain and heart. In fact, it’s been suggested that adrenaline production can improve long-term memory so cramming for an important exam isn’t always the worst idea!

Another familiar effect is the feeling of extra energy you get when you’re stressed. This is because adrenaline releases glucose, the main energy supply for the body. In this case, stress can give you the impetus to get active and tackle things head-on. 

When should I become concerned about my stress levels?

If your stress levels are constantly high, you will notice yourself becoming more run down. A by-product of constant adrenaline production is that it suppresses your immune system, making you more susceptible to viruses and infections.

If you’re feeling constantly stressed, there are some things you can do to help relieve it. Regular exercise can burn off unnecessary energy and will give you a feel-good endorphin rush. Maintaining a balanced diet and trying to get a good night’s sleep are also helpful.

Calming techniques such as mindfulness and meditation have been shown to reduce stress. If none of these things are working, reach out to your GP and discuss how you’re feeling with them. They will be able to talk you through the best treatment options to get you back to living your best life. 

For more on mental wellness, click here.