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Stress Can Be Good for You: Here’s How

Stress Can Be Good for You. Here's How

December 30, 2022

Stress is generally seen as an undesirable state to be avoided whenever possible. It feels bad, can interfere with attention and productivity, and, when experienced chronically, may harm the body and lead to mental illnesses, including depression and generalized anxiety. 


Despite stress’s bad reputation, its effects aren’t universally harmful, and there may be some downsides to a completely stress-free life. Learning when stress is good and why can help you identify when it might be working in your favor and when to get rid of it.

What Is Stress?

Before it’s possible to see how and why stress can be good, it’s important to understand what stress is. 


Generally, when discussing mental health, we are referring to what’s called psychological stress, which is an ordinarily unpleasant feeling of arousal or tension you experience in response to a negative or challenging circumstance. For example, you may feel stressed about your looming work deadline or financial pressures. 


Sometimes, when experts discuss the effects of stress, they are talking about physiological or biological stress, which refers to the physical changes that occur in the body in response to actual or perceived danger, such as an increased heart rate, dilated pupils, or the release of stress hormones. 


‘Stress’ can also refer to circumstances or situations that cause or warrant stress. For example, we may say of someone, “They are dealing with a lot of stress right now,” when we mean they are in a stressful situation. Here, ‘stress’ is more synonymous with ‘pressure.’


Experts aren’t always clear about which type of stress they are referring to, though they often have psychological stress in mind. 

What is Stress Good for?

There is a reason our bodies evolved a stress response, and it’s not because feeling stressed is always bad for us. When experienced in moderate amounts for short periods. 

Stress Serves as a Wellness Threat Detector

Perhaps one of the most obvious benefits of stress is that it can direct our attention toward and make us care about threats to our well-being. If your ancestors didn’t feel stressed when encountering a dangerous animal in the wild, they might not have known or felt compelled to avoid or attack it.

While the nature of the threats may have changed, our danger detection system lives alive and well in our feelings of psychological stress. They remain an important signal from our bodies that a situation or something about it might be bad for us.

Stress Can Improve Performance

Having no stress at all isn’t always a good thing when it comes to skills and tasks. According to the Yerkes-Dodson Law, optimal performance occurs between no pressure and high pressure in a goldilocks zone, where attention, motivation, and alertness are increased. For example, while a next-day deadline might result in crippling anxiety that prevents you from making progress, no deadline at all might mean you never complete the project. Stress Can Enhance Your Memory

In some instances, our brains appear to respond to stressful experiences by growing or reorganizing in a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity to better respond to similar situations in the future.


Memory is a good example of this. Animal studies show the brains of mice that underwent a stress test grew new neurons and performed better on learning and memory tests. Dr. Daniele Kaufer, an associate professor at UC Berkeley who studies the biology of stress, shares:


“[This] makes sense from an adaptive point of view.[…] If an animal encounters a predator and manages to escape, it’s important to remember where and when that encounter happened to avoid it in the future. If you’re walking down an alley and somebody threatens you, it’s important to remember exactly where you were in order to avoid that alley in the future.” 

Stress Can Build Your Stress-Resilience Muscles

Stress is often a challenging, unpleasant experience. While we’d all like to avoid it as much as possible, the reality is that no life is stress-free. So how do we learn to manage it better?


As with any skill, practice is essential. In the case of stress, repeated exposure to a particular stressor can reduce how stressed it makes you feel over time. This response pattern forms the basis of one of the most commonly utilized psychological therapies, called exposure therapy, which encourages individuals to confront a fear or obsession until it becomes more tolerable. 


“Stressful experiences can help you learn how to better cope with stress in the future,” shares Andrea Marquez LCSW, an Austin-Texas-based therapist here at Heading Heading. “They can show you what you’re capable of managing on your own so that the next time you encounter the same stressor, you’re better able to respond to it calmly and effectively.”

Stress Can Strengthen Your Immune System

Perhaps more surprising than the beneficial effects of stress on the mind are its healing effects on the body. While we can get an intuitive sense of how stress might help us prepare for danger or feel extra motivated to complete tasks, it’s a little harder to see how it might benefit us at a biological level.


Despite this, researchers argue that stress can be good for the body. For example, experiments have revealed that acute, short-term stress can improve immune responses to vaccinations, woundings, and infections. 

How Do I Know When Stress is Good or Bad?

While stress can improve memory, attention, immune function, stress tolerance, and more, it can do just the opposite. Whether or not a particular stressful feeling or circumstance is beneficial will ultimately depend on several individual factors, meaning there’s no one-size-fits-all test for separating the good stress from the bad. However, there are a few good rules of thumb. 

It Didn’t Last For A While

The benefits of stress are limited to brief exposures to it. If the stress you are feeling is sustained, it may be doing more harm than good. 

It Stops When the Stressor is Gone

Stress that sticks around after the danger or threat is gone is typically bad news.

It Feels Good

While stress usually feels bad, it isn’t always an unpleasant experience. For example, the stress of a workout may feel pleasurable. So, if the pressure you are experiencing feels good, that’s a sign that it might be good for your mind and body. 

You Feel Competent, Capable, and In Control

Stress tends to be less pronounced, shorter, and more beneficial when we have positive beliefs about our ability to problem solve in general or for the specific situation that is causing us stress.

You Feel Motivated But Not Overwhelmed

As we learned from the Yerkes-Dodson Law, some stress is necessary for optimal performance. But how much is suitable for any person depends on various factors from skill level to personality to confidence. So how much is enough for you? 


“A good rule of thumb is that you feel motivated but not overwhelmed,” shares Patricia Hernandez LCSW. “That way, you’ll have the energy to complete your tasks without the harmful effects of rumination and anxiety.”  

You Have a Strong Social Support Network

Social support can help ensure stress has a positive impact in various ways. For one thing, a solid social group can help you feel in control of your circumstances and better able to handle whatever stressors come your way. On top of that, social interactions can cause the release of oxytocin, which research suggests protects against the adverse effects of stress. 

You’re in a Stressful Situation

Feelings and emotions can be warranted or appropriate. For example, it “makes sense” to feel happy when something is good for you. We can evaluate stress in the same way. If you are stressed about genuinely stressful situations, then it’s more likely to be of the helpful variety. However, if your stress seems out of line with your circumstances, it’s probably not doing you any favors. 


While stress is often an uncomfortable, harmful feeling, we experience it for a reason. As a result, it’s no surprise that there’s a positive side to stress. For example, it can:


  • Alert you to threats to your well-being
  • Improve your alertness, motivation, and overall performance
  • Enhance your memory
  • Increase your stress resilience
  • Improve your immune function


The problem with stress is that it can hurt the same things it helps, raising the question, how do you know when stress is good? Stress is more likely to be beneficial when:


  • It doesn’t last for long
  • It goes away when the stressor is gone
  • It feels good
  • You feel competent and capable
  • You feel motivated but not overwhelmed
  • You have a solid social support system
  • You’re in a genuinely stressful situation
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Blog business mental health

Businesses are Prioritizing Employee Mental Health. Here’s Why

Employers are Prioritizing Employee Mental Health. Here's Why

December 16, 2022

Unfortunately, our mental health problems don’t wait at home while we work. Whatever stressors we are dealing with can latch on to us and linger in the background, exacerbated by various work-related stressors that pop up throughout the day. 


Over a quarter of adults experience mental health problems each year. Since employees can’t set down their mental health conditions before they clock in,  many struggle with mental illness at work. Aside from the immediate stress this puts on employees, it is also bad news for the companies that employ them. Mental illness and work-related stress are associated with a variety of adverse organizational outcomes including lower productivity and engagement, higher rates of burnout, decreased employee retention,  a decline in creativity, high turnover, and more. 


Despite the prevalence of mental illness and its harmful effect on employees and the companies they work for, mental health has typically not been a priority for most businesses. Until recently, employees were often left without adequate resources to quickly and affordably take care of their mental health needs. 


Fortunately, many companies now grasp the significance of maintaining a mentally healthy workforce. According to a 2022 report, 90 percent of employers are investing more in mental health programs. This marks a significant shift in the importance organizations are placing on mental health and their willingness to act as stewards of their employees’ mental well-being. 


Here’s why organizations are shifting gears to focus on helping their employees achieve and maintain mental wellness. 

Work-Related Stress is Common

One reason employers are offering comprehensive and holistic mental health care services is that work itself is stressful. In one survey, eighty-three percent of U.S. workers said they suffer from work-related stress, and 25 percent reported that their job is the number one stressor in their lives.


In some cases, work-related stress can become so severe that it results in an “occupation syndrome” called burnout.” According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this condition is characterized by


  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

Given the impact of burnout and the fact that work can be stressful by its very nature, employers now recognize they should provide workers with the tools they need to establish a healthy relationship with work and build the skills required to cope with work-related challenges.

Therapy Can Help

Burnout and other forms of work-related stress can be managed with psychotherapy. Therapy can combat work-related stress by helping employees become more mindful of what triggers workplace stress and how they react to it, build emotional resilience, and develop and maintain a healthier work-life balance.


Julia Lopez, Brand Manager at Heading Health, shares her experience of how therapy helped her navigate stress, including work stress:


Working with my therapist helped me understand aspects of work-related burnout that were and were not in my control. Through therapy, I learned how to practice better boundaries, acknowledge when I was putting too much pressure on myself, and on a larger scale, evaluate the relationship between my work and my identity.” She also noted, “Work is an incredibly important part of my life, but it’s not the totality of my life. Having a more appropriately-sized relationship with work actually helped me become more clear about my career goals and ultimately feel more effective in my job.


Julia is far from alone in her experience. Studies have shown that a variety of mental health techniques, from cognitive behavioral therapy to mindfulness-based stress reduction, are effective at helping employees combat burnout and other types of workplace stress.


Of course, employers shouldn’t just throw more mental health services on top of work-related stress and call it a day. Burnout is complicated and may require internal and external solutions. However, easily accessible and affordable mental health solutions can play an important role.

Good Mental Health is Good for Organizations

Employers generally understand the value of helping employees maintain their physical health. From mild colds to severe medical conditions, employees who aren’t physically well simply can’t perform at their best, if at all. 


Though it may not be as readily apparent, mental health is just as critical to a well-functioning organization. 

Happier Employees are More Productive and Creative

There is a well-established link between depression and motivation. Low motivation is so frequently experienced by individuals with depression that it’s listed as one of the condition’s main symptoms in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). 


With that said, you’d expect employees who don’t feel their best to get less done, given that their low mood is taking their productive energy away from them. Recent research has verified this intuition.  One study found that happier employees are 13% more productive on average. 

Better Mental Health Leads to Stronger Engagement

Depression and anxiety can make it more difficult for individuals to be engaged at work, meaning they may struggle to approach their tasks, jobs, and colleagues with a positive, focused, and energized state of mind. Unsurprisingly, researchers have consistently found that burnout and other sources of work-related stress are associated with decreased levels of engagement.

Mental Wellness Can Boost Recruitment and Retention

Employees are increasingly evaluating potential employers’ ability to provide adequate mental health resources when applying for jobs. According to one report, 81 percent of respondents stated that how employers support mental health will be an important consideration when looking for future work.


Mental health has also become a more significant consideration for employees deciding whether to leave their current employer. A recent study found that one in four workers who left their jobs in the past two years did so because of its impact on mental health.

Investing in Mental Health Saves Companies Money

Mental illnesses such as depression cost companies an estimated $51 billion annually. From lower productivity to a lack of engagement to the loss of valuable talent, poor mental health dramatically affects companies’ bottom lines. 


Fortunately, employers can effectively combat this by investing in accessible, comprehensive mental health services. According to the World Economic Forum, employers see a $4 ROI for every dollar they spend on mental health care.


Mental health must continue to play a critical role in employers’ overall wellness strategies. From its impact on organizational outcomes, to its effects on the company’s bottom line, to the fact that workplaces are often a significant source of stress, organizations have strong altruistic and self-interested reasons to take care of their employees’ mental health. Investing in a flexible, accessible, and affordable option that provides employees with quick access to a range of services is a great place to start.

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Complete our consultation form and an intake specialist will get in touch.

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