Hi readers! My name is Dasha Albee and I am a junior psychology major here at the University of Rhode Island. I just started writing for the Good Five Cent Cigar this fall, and with this section, I hope to bring you some fun psychology facts, as well as helpful tips to make your life just a tiny bit easier.
This week, let’s talk about a fun little emotion called stress. With everything returning back to being in person and daily responsibilities coming back, it comes with no surprise that the human population is stressed. Even talking to people around campus, though the semester seems to have just started, everyone is already overwhelmed and very valid for feeling that way (I definitely am as well). After working and studying from home for almost a whole year, returning to everything being in person can be a lot to experience all at once.
But good news!
FACT: stress can actually be good for you (in moderation, that is).
We always think about the negative side effects of stress. How it can kill brain cells and increase blood pressure, but have you ever considered how stress is helping your body? Stress can actually make you a smarter, healthier and stronger person.
According to Healthline, “Your body is wired to handle everyday, normal stressors and when your natural defenses kick in, your well-being improves.” Our inborn fight-or-flight response is the way we deal with stress. This is a physiological reaction that is meant to handle tough situations. So, when you are stressed about an assignment you have to submit by 11:59 p.m., just remember to tell your “fight” response, “You got this!”
Let’s dive into three ways stress can be good for you.
First of all, it can improve cognitive function. Moderate stress levels can potentially boost your brain’s performance. This is because moderate stress strengthens the connection between neurons in your brain, improving memory and attention span and helping you become more productive. In one study, researchers at the University of Berkeley found that in lab rats “brief stressful events caused the stem cells in their brains to proliferate into new nerve cells,” resulting in increased mental performance after two weeks. So, if you’ve ever felt yourself work better under stress or at a last-minute deadline, it makes sense. Your brain functions and operates pretty well under stress because it is quite literally designed to do that. Not to worry, stress can make your brain operate better and in turn, make you cognitively smarter.
Next, stress can aid your physical health. What’s interesting about low doses of the stress hormone is that it also helps protect from infections. According to Healthline, “moderate stress stimulates the production of a chemical called interleukins and gives the immune system a quick boost to protect against illnesses.” We’re in “megacold” season right now around campus, and if it hasn’t affected you yet, it might just be stress that’s helping you out. So thanks stress!
Now, don’t get me wrong –– stress is annoying. It makes you overthink, you can’t focus on other things and you feel like there is a stone on your shoulders weighing you down with that one deadline. But overall and over the years, stress can make you a stronger person. Any experience or tough situation builds resilience. When you first experience a tough situation that stresses you out, you may crumble and not want to deal with the pressure, but you learn from the past and now know how to handle the situation if it happens again. So, stress is almost like a vaccine that makes you immune to the situation if it occurs in the future. Just think back on a time when you were stressed about something and then got it done; how did you feel? Did you know how to handle it next time? I know I sure did.
All in all, stress can be overwhelming and annoying to deal with because of how it makes you feel, but just remember that it can also be beneficial for your body and mind. With that in mind, it’s also important to take breaks. Whether it be scrolling through TikTok, a walk in the park or a nice nap, everyone relaxes differently, so find how you feel at ease and make sure to do it when you feel that rush coming on. Even when studying, you can take five minutes every hour to just stand up and move around or grab a snack.