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When stress can actually be good for the brain

UGA study finds some perceived stress can be beneficial

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Stress can be harmful to your health, yet a new study has found certain types of stress might actually benefit brain function.

Researchers at the University of Georgia studied 1,200 participants about their perceived stress, thoughts and feelings. After the survey, participants were given a test to assess their neurocognitive abilities. The results showed those who had low to moderate perceived stress levels benefited psychologically and could prevent developing mental health conditions.

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“If you’re in an environment where you have some level of stress, you may develop coping mechanisms that will allow you to become a more efficient and effective worker and organize yourself in a way that will help you perform,” said Assaf Oshri, lead author of the study and associate professor.

Stress can act as a motivator, allowing you to accomplish goals and lead a healthier lifestyle, according to Summa Health. However, the study warns against too much stress, which can have the reverse effect.

“At a certain point, stress becomes toxic,” Oshri said. “Chronic stress, like the stress that comes from living in abject poverty or being abused, can have very bad health and psychological consequences. It affects everything from your immune system, to emotional regulation, to brain functioning. Not all stress is good stress.”

Positive stress, also known as eustress, is short term, feels challenging yet manageable, and occurs when you feel confident, according to Medical News Today. Eustress may occur when starting a new job, preparing for an exam or when doing difficult but rewarding work.

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Distress, on the other hand, negatively affects your health. It can be either long or short term, feels unmanageable or overwhelming, and occurs when your self-efficacy is low, according to Medical News Today. Physical signs of stress include tension headaches, digestive issues, and changes to heart and blood pressure, according to WebMD. Emotional signs of stress could include anger, irritability, issues with sleep and problems with memory.

“It’s like when you keep doing something hard and get a little callous on your skin,” Oshri said. “You trigger your skin to adapt to this pressure you are applying to it. But if you do too much, you’re going to cut your skin.”

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