Good Stress vs. Bad Stress and The Body’s Response

Though stress never feels good, it can serve a useful purpose. Stress is a signal to the brain and body that can help us identify physiological and psychological issues.

Chronic stress, however, can be a catalyst for depression, anxiety and mood disorders—serious problems that together are ranked number one among the top five national health conditions contributing to poor health in nearly every county of every state in the U.S.

Stress can manifest itself in ways that impact thinking, behavior and emotions. The body’s response can involve any of the following:

  • Rising blood pressure and heart rate
  • Muscle tensing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Weakening of the immune and digestive systems

Good Stress vs. Bad Stress

Stress is considered beneficial when it provides a burst of energy that can heighten awareness, lock memories and be a motivator to get things done more efficiently.

Negative stress is long-lasting, less manageable and decreases performance. Signs of bad stress include: anxiety, appetite and sleep pattern changes, fatigue, headaches, and a lack of energy.

Understanding the Risk

Negative stress can lead to other more serious, long-term issues for a variety of reasons. Some of the risks of untreated chronic stress include:

  • Depression/Anxiety: Anxiety disorders can occur when the symptoms of stress continue after the stressor, or perceived threat, is gone. Chronic stress can also lead to depression if the feelings of anxiousness or irritability become suppressed or unresolved for long periods of time.
  • Diabetes: The American Diabetes Association shares stress can cause or worsen cases of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes by raising blood sugar levels, activating fat cells and increasing blood pressure. It also contributes to insulin resistance, making it more difficult for the pancreas to secrete insulin.
  • Gastrointestinal Issues: The gut is often referred to as the “second brain” for the way it impacts mental and physical well-being. Chronic stress shows short and long-term effects on gut health, from a less efficient immune system to a heightened risk of digestive disorders including: Crohn’s Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), constipation, diarrhea and food allergies.
  • Heart Disease: Researchers have found that chronic stress may pose a risk for heart disease, the leading killer of men and women in America. Not only can it contribute to a raise in blood pressure and cholesterol levels, it may lead to overeating and inactivity. Interestingly enough, laughter and happiness can lower your blood pressure, reduce the risk of stroke, heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems.
  • Obesity: Chronic stress has been linked to biochemical changes in the body that trigger cravings, change digestion and increase appetite. Pairing our bodies natural desire for comfort foods with the convenience of drive-thru restaurants and processed meals is a recipe for disaster under stressful circumstances.

Photo credit: Bryan Rosengrant

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