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5 Ways A Little Stress Can Be Good For You!

Usually stress is viewed as the enemy. Many warn that it can increase the risk of a wide variety of ailments, but what happens when you decide to make stress your friend? According to new research, it could change your life…

Instead of fearing stress, Kelly McGonigal urges people to befriend it. These seven studies will reveal why some stress may have positive effects on our minds and bodies. (Important Note: These studies are about  “short-term” or “moderate” stress; the kind that is short-lived and related to something specific, rather than “chronic” or long-term stresses.)

1. When you don’t perceive stress as negative, it isn’t. A study done by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison looked at data from a 1998 survey that asked specific questions about stress levels, stress management and perceptions about how stress affects health. Through 2006 they cross referenced 29,000 participants with public records to find how many had died. Overall, they found that participants who reported a lot of stress and held a perception that stress has a huge impact on health had a a 43% increased risk of premature death. However, participants who reported a lot of stress but little to no belief that stress impacted health had the lowest hazard ratio of any group in the whole survey, even those who felt almost no stress at all.

2. Stress boosts the production of neurons that improve mental performance. A 2013 study from Daniela Kaufer and Elizabeth Kirby at the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that some stress can possibly enable growth of new neurons. In this study on rats it was found that a small boost the levels of stress hormone appeared to cause stem cells to grow into new neurons. Two weeks later, these matured neurons appeared to improve the rats’ performance on learning tests.

“Some amounts of stress are good to push you just to the level of optimal alertness, behavioral and cognitive performance. I think intermittent stressful events are probably what keeps the brain more alert, and you perform better when you are alert.” Daniela Kaufer

3. Bursts of stress can strengthen the immune system.  A 2012 Stanford study found that by exposing lab rats to ‘short lived’ stressful situations produces a large release of several types of immune cells in their bloodstreams. Feeling Sick? Try Skydiving! Just kidding…

4. Stress improves your ability to learn. A 2007 study from researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health subjected half its male participants to having their hand dunked in ice-cold water for 60 seconds. After that, the participants were asked to do two learning experiments, an eyeblink test and a virtual navigation test. The stress group performed far better on both tests. Idea: Bring a bucket of ice to school…

5. Stress improves your memory. Researchers at the University of Buffalo used the rats aversion to swimming to help them with an experiment. One group of rats took a 20-minute swim while another group stayed dry. After their swim they measured how both groups performed in a maze. The rats who’d gone on the stressful swim made significantly fewer mistakes in the maze than the control group. Researchers noted that these rats had an increase in the neurotransmitter glutamine, which is known to improve working memory. A similar test was done with humans by Researchers at New Mexico State University. Students were given a test where they had to look at two nearly identical images in rapid succession and note subtle differences between. A version of this test was given both before and after a situation designed specifically to spike their cortisol levels. Results were the same, after the stressful situation, students did better on the working-memory test. Is it just me or do you think that the humans could have been put through a more stressful test? either way the results speak for themselves. Stress is helpful.

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