Stress: friend or foe?

Stress is inevitable, but it’s not all bad. It can actually be good for you!

The simple word “stress” may trigger flashbacks of several unpleasant crises: bills, doctors’ appointments, exams, losing your wallet. Research often focusses on the negative outcomes of stress, such as the increased risk of Alzheimer’s. So it wouldn’t be hard to agree that, for the majority of us, stress is a foe. Or is it?


Whether stress is beneficial or not depends on the level of stress and how you decide to deal with it. At sudden stress, our initial reaction is the “fight-or-flight” response. We depend on this response to protect us and warn us about unexpected danger. Studies show that this type of “good” stress strengthens our immune system and enhances recovery after a surgery, for example.


Moderate levels of stress also improve productivity. It can promote personal growth and encourage you to accomplish goals, like studying well before a test. Without temporary stress, people tend to become lazy and ignore what’s important: procrastination… remember that?


Stress can force you to gain new skills and learn more about yourself. Confronting a stressful event may help improve your coping abilities to prevent further stress. When it results in a minor failure, stress can promote self-reflection and help you learn from your mistakes—maybe next time you’ll do those readings on time! Once you finish a major assignment, the relief from stress and the sense of accomplishment promotes a healthy state of mind.


Stress is inevitable. But it can be healthy to some degree. Life without stress could get boring, leaving us nothing to look forward to. Hans Selye, the father of stress research, believed that there are two types of people when it comes to dealing with stress: “racehorses”, who prefer stress to live a fast-paced life, and “turtles”, who do best in a quiet, calm, peaceful lifestyle.


So the next time the stress bug bites you, remember that you can control it and use it to your advantage, not the other way round.