“I’m so stressed out — it’s awesome!”
Here’s a statement you never hear: “I’m so stressed out — it’s awesome!” But the fact is, certain pressure-filled situations — say, the occasional public-speaking gig or cramming for an exam — can be good for your health.
“There are good and bad types of stress. The bad kind is chronic and uncontrollable, like the tension caused by an unhappy marriage or a sick relative,” says Edward Calabrese, Ph. D., a toxicologist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “But there are a lot of positives associated with short bursts of stress that ease up quickly,” such as being stuck in a snarl of traffic or sweating through a presentation at work.
In a recent Ohio State University study, mice that experienced brief but intense stress were better able to fight the flu. And a smattering of research has linked acute short-term stress to a reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.
The reason? Stress jolts you into repair mode. It works like this: When you injure yourself, your body snaps to attention and starts to fix itself — healing your injury and revving up your immune system to protect against infection. Short-term stress works the same way. Initially, it produces free radicals and hormones such as cortisol that wreak havoc on your tissues. But then, when your body senses the damage, it calls in the cleanup crew. If the stress is short-lived, you can heal quickly and still have enough energy left over to repair everyday wear and tear, like a scratch or a bruise. (It’s like when you decide to tidy up a room for 10 minutes and end up in the midst of a full-on spring cleaning — your body goes into a kind of self-repair overdrive.)