Stress Isn’t Always Bad — Here’s How to Use It Effectively


Stress plays an important role in our lives. Unfortunately, the intense nature of modern stress is often what tips people into experiencing unhealthy levels of stress but there might be a way around this.

Psychologists at the University of Rochester in New York have looked at whether stress can be used positively, with the help of tertiary students. They found that the way one perceives stress can make a big difference to the experience of it as well as their mental health, general wellbeing and success.

The study, which was recently published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, asked young adults at a community college to change their view on their stress response.

Instead of seeing stress as an obstacle, the participants were asked to treat it as a tool. To do this, students completed reading and writing exercises that explained the role stress played in one’s performance, especially in scenarios like taking a test.

“We use a type of ‘saying is believing’ approach whereby participants learn about the adaptive benefits of stress and they are prompted to write about how it can help them achieve,” said lead author and Professor of Psychology, Jeremy Jamieson in a news release.

With students changing their mindset around stress, the researchers found that the participants experienced a reduction in anxiety, while the “good stress” mindset also helped the students get higher scores on tests. Other outcomes included less procrastination, staying enrolled in classes and healthier responses to academic challenges.

This study is a great example of the power our brain has at framing the way we experience certain feelings, while also highlighting the important role stress plays in our bodies. The researchers used the following example as a way to show why we experience stress.

“A student preparing for their first job interview might perceive their racing heart and sweaty palms as signs they are nervous and about to ‘bomb’ when, in fact, the stress response is helping deliver oxygen to the brain and releasing hormones that mobilise energy,” the researchers said.

While we’ll never be able to eliminate stress from our lives, this is a good reminder of how we can use it positively as well as why we experience it in the first place. According to the researchers, “Stress is simply the body’s response to any demand, good or bad. Excitement is a stress state, as is anxiety.”

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