Stress: Is it Harmful or Beneficial?

December 6, 2017 by  

Stress is different things to different people and depends upon a person’s perception of a situation and is based on their life experiences.
The initial stress reaction is the same for everyone, it involves a burst of adrenaline that increases one’s heart rate, respiration, perspiration, and energy level…..but only for a brief period. It is caused by mental or physical tension that results from physical, emotional, or chemical causes. In addition, it is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demand exceeds the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.

Stress never seems to go away and is often beyond our control, so having effective strategies that you can exercise when necessary is essential to your well-being. That may mean getting regular aerobic exercise, walking your dog, meditating, singing, dancing, shopping, having a relaxing glass of wine, laughing with friends……it really does not matter, as long as you do something that reduces the effects of the stress situation for you.
When stress occurs for short or even moderate lengths of time, there is the opportunity for your body to recover from the stress reaction. In fact, in truth, short-term stress is actually beneficial as it gives you focus, extra energy, and spurs you to higher levels of performance….but only for a short period of time.
On the other hand, if stress goes on for long periods of time, your body does not recover, in fact, it “thinks” that your organ systems need to be sustained at a high level of operation so releases another chemical: cortisol, which keeps your organs on “high alert” and actually overworks them which can cause irreversible damage. So, long periods of stress can be harmful.

Here is another factor to consider… and women actually react to stress a little differently. The initial reaction is the same, however, shortly thereafter, women get a second cascade of chemicals which counteract the adrenalin rush with estrogen and oxytocin. These two chemicals slow down your heart rate and respiration so that you can begin to consider how to problem solve and your nurturing side is released. In men, however, testosterone, enhances the adrenalin rush and keeps you on “high alert” for longer. This difference may be one of the reasons that women tend to live longer than men as their organ systems have experienced less overwork. In addition, women tend to build strong support systems with their women friends and in times of stress, turn to them for needed support and assistance. Men, do have friendships, of course, but tend not to seek help as often or rely on their friends as women do because society has taught them to be “strong” and self-sufficient.

So if we go back to the initial premise: is stress harmful or beneficial……it is both. It just depends on how long it lasts. If you experience short stressful periods, you can actually leverage those high energy periods to your benefit by getting more done and doing it better. However, if you are in a situation that causes long-term stress, and if you do nothing to deflect or reduce it, you will sustain irreversible physiological damage which could result in disease or various physiological harm, panic attacks, other behavioural symptoms, cognitive deficiencies, communication problems, and perception issues. None of which are good for you and which have not allowed your body to recover.

It does not matter what works for you as a stress reducer, it just matters that when you find yourself suffering, that you definitely employ those strategies so that your body can recover. Unfortunately, stress is a part of life and often occurs from situations that were not in your control, that is why you must be able to deal with it effectively so that it can be used beneficially rather than cause you harm.