Good Stress vs. Bad Stress: Understanding the Differences

Good Stress vs. Bad Stress

Psychologist Kelly McGonigal gave a How to Make Stress Your Friend Tedtalk that informs us of the up side to feeling stressed out:

  1. Stress makes us social.
  2. Feeling stressed produces the hormone oxytocin. It acts on the brain and on the body, protecting your cardiovascular system from the effects of stress.
  3. Oxytocin is a natural anti-inflammatory that helps our blood vessels stay relaxed during stress.
  4. Pounding, stressed hearts have receptors for this hormone. Oxytocin helps heart cells to regenerate and to heal from any stress-induced damage. The stress hormone strengthens our hearts.
    5. The physical benefits of oxytocin are enhanced by social contact and social support. When we reach out to others under stress, either to seek support or to help someone else, we release more of this hormone our stress response becomes healthier, and we actually recover faster from stress.

Now that you know how stress positively affects your health, you’re ready to distinguish between good and bad stress. It’s a lesson worth learning. Some stress can kill us, after all. Other forms of stress can improve our lives.

Bad stress is destructive. Financial problems, the fear of uncontrollable circumstances, caring for chronically ill people, loneliness, miserable relatives, neighbors or colleagues and chronic pain are just a few examples of stresses that can damage physical plus emotional health. If they endure too long, the tolls on physical and mental health accumulate. A downward spiral ensues. There are endless ways for that to damage or to destroy lives.

Good stress is the impetus to do something constructive about a problem. Think of the news stories about people who solved social problems by ending school delinquency by teaching mediation or by innovating stress-reducing negotiating techniques. Innovators have solved medical problems by thinking creatively, helping themselves and/or loved ones, even wider society, as a result of their positively channeled energies.

The trick to managing stress so that you master your reaction to it is matter of understating one thing: Stress develops with a perceived disconnect between a situation and our resources to deal with it. Our assessment of a given situation might be reality-oriented or an imagined threat that prompts us into a sense of frenzy and hopelessness. Our perception of a situation is the key to dealing with it. If we decide that the issue is bad, it will be. If we see it as the opportunity to fix a problem and to improve our lives, then it’s motivational, a positive form of stress.

Perception is based on our conscious and unconscious beliefs. Accessing our beliefs allows us to alter our behavior. That’s the secret of therapy, to expose clients to their core beliefs, the ones they’re not aware of having.

Some of our beliefs have been realities since childhood. If they were based on misinterpretations of events and/or the motives of other people, then those beliefs might undermine the achievement of a person’s goals.

Beliefs determine our behavior. Being certain of what you believe affects your conscious and unconscious choices aka agendas. Realizing that some of your beliefs were based on inaccurate understandings of certain situations can alter your emotions, your goals, and your future behavior. Putting life, and specific events, into perspective is what emotional and cognitive well-being is about.

You can promote liberating perspective by focusing on specific concepts, breaking them down into understandable pieces, then reconstructing events into a coherent, neutral or upbeat point of view. That is the thinking process at work. A therapist or other confidante can help you with that process if you can’t manage it alone.

Whether you’re a daughter-in-law  caring for deteriorating in-laws, a lovelorn person wondering how to enter a loving relationship, a befuddled business person seeking clues out of the muck in your employment life, or mired in some other situation that needs remedying, you can ponder your problem(s) and how to turn them around. A world of books, television shows and other online materials plus personal interaction can help you with the project.