The Upside of Stress

When I need to unwind, there’s nothing I
love more than an “experience.” Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, Zip-lining
or even just riding roller coasters at Coney Island. These aren’t relaxing activities by any
stretch. In fact, they get my adrenaline pumping, so
physiologically I’m experiencing “stress,” but I still enjoy them, and I still feel better
after them. Stress usually gets a bad rap – some studies
have linked chronic stress to depression, obesity, and heart disease – but my happy
experiences with briefly stressful activities got me thinking – are there times when a
little stress can be good for us? Now scientists have actually done lots of
studies on the potential benefits of short-term, acute stress. A group of researchers at the University of
Wisconsin wanted to know if the stress hormone cortisol affects how well people learn and
remember – a study that’s relevant for students cramming for exams all over the world! Now cortisol is naturally released when our
“fight or flight” systems are activated. Chronically high levels of cortisol are linked
to high blood pressure, heart disease, digestive issues, anxiety and depression. But in spurts, cortisol works as a signal
to increase dopamine which improves perception and attention. In this study, researchers gave participants
a placebo, 20mg, or 40mg of cortisol. Then they gave them a list of words to memorize. Two days later, people who received a 20mg
dose did the best job of recognizing the words that they’d been asked to memorize. So a little stress can actually help us learn. Beyond a boost in memory, researchers were
curious about how these small bursts of stress could impact our relationships with others
– would stress bring us together or push us apart? They put people through stress-inducing tasks
including public speaking and job applications, verbal math, and then measured their prosocial
behaviors compared to control subjects. Stressed participants were more trustworthy
and more likely to share in a game where they could compete or cooperate to win money. This result is supported by how communities
respond to disasters in the real world. Research shows that people are more cooperative,
open, and giving after a disaster. Acute stress can bring communities together
too. The way we think about stress can also have
a huge influence on the way it affects us. People who view stress as potentially beneficial
are less negatively impacted by adverse life events than people who think stress can only
be bad. Think about presenting in front of a crowd. Everyone has a physiological stress response
to public speaking: cortisol levels and heart rate go up, you might feel a little nauseous
or jittery. Would you describe this as anxiety or excitement? The physical sensation is the same, but someone
who describes that feeling as “excitement” is more likely to enjoy public speaking than
someone who describes it as “anxiety.” Simply learning that symptoms of stress may
be beneficial can lead to healthier responses to stress in the future. So while chronic high stress is known to be
harmful, short-term, acute stress isn’t necessarily bad. Instead of focusing on the negatives, think
about a time that you enjoyed stress, like during a horror movie, or while riding a roller
coaster. Think of times when stress helped you cram
for an exam or when a stressful experience brought you closer to a friend or colleague. Reframing your thinking about stress can have
real benefits for how you experience day-to-day challenges. So instead of being stressed about stress
– try to focus on how you can use it to your advantage!

38 thoughts on “The Upside of Stress

  1. Stress can force us to work harder towards our dreams to get away from the source of stress 🔥

  2. How do you think about stress?! Viewing it as potentially beneficial can leave you better off than people who think stress can only be bad. A good start in reframing stress is, you know, watching this video…

    And then sharing it with someone you think could benefit from it too. 😎

  3. If you are OUT of a stressful situation, you are relaxed.
    But if you are IN a stressful situation, you are "stressed out."
    The English language is weird, I can't stress that enough.

  4. I feel like there needs to be a different word for the kind of beneficial stress you are talking about because it isn't in the same ball park as that feeling of not being able to cope that I associate the word stress with.

  5. I think the real distinction here is that for stress to be good for you you have to have ways to be out of it. Meaning if you’re always stressed you can’t use that chronic stress in useful ways. And it’s also useful to remember this ‘framing stress’ in a different way works if you have useful frames in the first place, if you don’t have useful frames in your head already, if you’re depressed, have anxiety problems or any other problems causing you to have executive function problems this tips and tricks may not be things you can do by yourself.

  6. Is it just me who misses Vanessa's face from these later videos? I mean the animations are cute but they can't replace her.

  7. Nothing perks me up more than the adrenaline released from potentially losing my passwords, and access to absolutely everything.

  8. So the difference between success and failure of a task can be linked to feeling pumped versus feeling anxious, respectively, before approaching a task?

  9. Feelings more just chemicals .sense a lot of different feelings are linked to same Chemical.
    Some things said to be chemicals like love . In my book are concepts. Sharing prospectives caring eachother as your self. feels . Want treat eachother fair. .
    And courage it's it self is fare response. Fear an alert to danger to face danger is decision a context a concept

  10. Interesting how almost every emotion that humans have can be somewhat beneficial and have actual reasons for existing!

  11. My 7th grade health class taught me the difference between eustress and distress. That really helped me through high school.

  12. Huh. Interesting, I've always had this "Stress as a challenge" Mindset, but people practically shamed me out of it. I guess it's time to go back into it. Great vid, as always.

  13. I'm disapointed by the chart at 1:40. No error bars, and the origin isn't zero, emphasizing the difference when actually it isn't very big. Also, as said in other comments, the University of Wisconsin is misplaced by a little bit. Great content otherwise, thanks

  14. I mean, great video overall, but I was distracted by one detail…
    Why is any University of Wisconsin campus in Indiana?

  15. From a security engineering perspective it's actually good to not stress about picking new passwords. Do have a software generate a truly random one. Use a manager to save it. On any breaches you more likely won't need to change several or worry where else you'd have used it.

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