The Plus Side to Stress

You seldom hear a good word said about stress. We suffer under it, complain about it, avoid or manage it if we can. But moderate short-term stress can actually be good for us, according to Shamash Alidina, author of The Mindful Way Through Stress. Although no one is saying that chronic, relentless, exhausting pressure is healthy, being pushed outside our comfort zone may have upsides…

• Moderate levels of stress may increase cell growth in the learning part of your brain.

• Short-term stress can boost your immune system.

• Stress triggers the production of energising adrenalin, which increases focus and alertness.

• It also stimulates the release of oxytocin, the hormone that encourages you to relate to others.

One critical factor is our mindset. Some researchers say that nothing is inherently stressful, even divorce, unemployment and death: it’s the way we view what happens. Others say that, for some people, anything can be stressful, including apparently happy events such as going on holiday.

Although our response to stress is highly individual, there are some general guidelines on how to become more resilient to the negative aspects of stress and enhance the positives. Being organised, delegating and not being a perfectionist do work, partly by making you feel more in control.

Even the physical symptoms of stress can be useful. As health psychologist Dr Kelly McGonigal, author of The Upside of Stress, says: ‘Your heart might be pounding, you may be breathing faster…but you [could] view them as signs that your body is energised and preparing you to meet a challenge.’

‘So don’t try to avoid all stress, change your attitude,’ says Alidina. ‘See how it galvanises you into action and makes life more interesting.’ Try taking a risk – from joining a dance class to doing a course in public speaking. If it doesn’t suit you, you needn’t carry on.

Alidina also advises giving yourself a break from stress by practising mindfulness, which allows you to rest in the present moment. Having that space to recharge helps you to become more positive in general.

UnknownThe Mindful Way Through Stress by Shamash Alidina is published by Guilford Press, price £11.99. The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal is published by Ebury Press, price £12.99*


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