Article written by Dilvin Yasa
Published in House of Wellness (September 2021)
Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but when harnessed in small amounts, it can actually be good for you.
It’s not often you hear someone say “I’m so stressed out, it’s fantastic!”
But positive stress – known as eustress – can offer a wealth of health benefits.
Positive stress can be the excitement of a new job, the anticipation of a first date or the thrill of a fun activity.
“It’s anything that requires us to evolve and be courageous,” peak performance researcher and author Dr Adam Fraser says.
“A certain level of struggle and challenge is critical for a human. Provided it’s constructively met, it can result in growth.”
Psychologist Dr Amanda Ferguson says positive stress energises and motivates us.
“(It pushes) us along in a sort of flow as we go about our day,” Dr Ferguson, host of Psych for Life podcast, says.
“Depending on how you utilise the stress, it can be an incredibly helpful tool in our lives.”
Here are some ways we can benefit from positive stress:
Positive stress can improve brain power
Feeling a quickening of the heart?
Moderate stress strengthens the connections between neurons in the brain, helping to boost productivity, concentration and memory.
US researchers have found brief stressful events cause the stem cells in the brains of lab rats to proliferate into new nerve cells, resulting in increased mental performance.
Positive stress builds resilience
Learning to cope with a certain amount of stress can make us more resilient and better able to manage future challenges, Dr Fraser says.
“It can help build our self-esteem and our self-worth,” Dr Fraser says.
“If you ask anyone what they’re most proud of, they’ll always talk about the hardest thing they’ve ever done and that’s because out of stress and challenge comes evolution and innovation.”
Dr Fraser explains that with increased confidence as smaller challenges are met and overcome, we’re more likely to feel in control of other, more hostile, situations.
Positive stress can boost your immune system
Chronic stress has long been linked with an extensive range of illnesses and disease, but research shows exposure to short-term stress can actually help fortify the immune system.
In one US study, researchers found subjecting rats to mild levels of stress caused a massive mobilisation of immune cells into the bloodstream and then into other destinations including the skin and other tissues.
Moderate amounts of daily stress can also help protect against oxidative damage, which is linked to ageing, another study found.
Positive stress can help protect you from potential dangers
Stress produces our fight-or-flight response – our body’s vital warning system.
This is where the brain floods the body with chemicals such as cortisol and epinephrine when the brain perceives a threat.
It can encourage you to remove yourself from potentially dangerous situations.
Positive stress can motivate you
Whether it’s rushing to get to work on time or striving to complete a task before a deadline, eustress pushes us to meet challenges and kick personal goals, Dr Ferguson says.
“It’s subconsciously accepting there will be consequences unless we accept and work with the stress,” she says.
Dr Fraser says he is an example of how positive stress can be useful for motivation.
“Pre-Covid I was touring the world as a speaker and when the pandemic hit, I initially freaked out about how I was going to be able to continue my career,” he says.
“Of course, that stress then led me to ask questions such as ‘How do I evolve my business? What do I change about myself to meet this challenge?’, and this motivated me to pivot to the online space.”