Stress: Good or Bad?


stress words

We’ve all been told stress is bad, right? Well, that’s not entirely accurate. Just like everything else in life, TOO MUCH stress is bad. So what is stress, what does it do to you, and why is too much of it bad?

According to Merriam-Webster, stress is a “state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc.” Keep reading the different definitions, and it even says stress can cause disease. That escalated quickly.

Your mental state has a surprisingly strong effect on the chemical conditions inside your body. To put it simply, good thoughts release good chemicals and bad thoughts release bad chemicals. Stress releases two important chemicals with both positive and negative reactions: adrenaline and cortisol. Both are good in the short term, and very bad in the long term. So the key to understanding whether stress is good or bad is time.

Ever heard of fight or flight? That’s a stress response. When presented with a situation rife with conflict or danger (aka stress) adrenaline helps you kick it into high gear to fight like a boxer or run like a sprinter. So stress is good! Otherwise, we’d never make it out alive. In the short term, cortisol helps the adrenaline response and prepare your body for the energy needs of the fight or flight reponse.

As I said, in the short term stress is good. So in the long run, stress can be very detrimental to your health and lead to disease. High levels of cortisol in the body over time will destroy the immune system, add weight to the mid-section, disrupt your sleep, INCREASE SENSITIVITY TO PAIN CAUSING HEADACHES AND BODY ACHINESS, and increase depression. It’s cyclical: stress causes depression, depression causes stress, etc. You get the idea.

As a society, we have to do a better job in managing our stress. Americans are stress balls. I think we’ve turned everything into a source of stress, from work to kids and family. Sure, work and the in-laws can be stressful at times, but we can’t let it eat us alive. The key to everything is managing it.

Here’s my checklist for whenever I get stress. I start at the top and work my way down.

  1. I visit my chiropractor. She just so happens to be working in the same room as me half the time. Remember that stress increases your sensitivity to pain and makes you hurt. Nothing can relieve pain and decrease stress like your chiropractor.
  1. I read a book. People like to “escape” from the world when their own lives are too stressful. Most escape into the world of the internet and Facebook. Facebook, to me, isn’t even close to a stress relief. So when I need to escape I read a book. That’s my quiet time.
  1. If it can’t be fixed by my chiropractor, I go to my massage therapist. Its pain relief mixed with quiet time and I know I carry my stress in my shoulders.
  1. I hop on the bike. It’s a bit too cold to bike outside, so I have my bike hooked up to an indoor trainer. Exercise should be higher on the list because it has so many more health benefits than stress relief, but I don’t have to shower again after reading a book.
  1. I talk to the wife. If I can’t manage it on my own, I bring in the expert. She’s pretty good at making me see the comedy in all my stresses. I bet you can find someone that will understand and help you work through your stresses too.

Notice that my strategy says nothing about avoiding the problem and hoping it goes away. That doesn’t happen, but sometimes we need that quick break so we can refocus and tackle the stress with a fresh perspective. That is what stress management is. Stress will never disappear even if you retire to a Caribbean island tomorrow. We need to keep stress to the short term, inside the window of its positive benefits.

If you don’t have your own strategy or it doesn’t quite measure up to the stresses in your life, I urge you to follow mine. I’m always open to hearing new strategies, though. If something works for you, share it with me and with your friends.

~ Dr. Andy

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