It’s logical and natural for us to think of stress as something that problematic in our lives. The truth is not all forms of stress are bad for us. In fact, short-term periods of acute, slight-to-moderate, predictable stress poses no health problems, and is a normal and healthy part of daily living. The short-term release of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine can be beneficial since this neurochemical helps create memories and has been shown to improve mood. Short-term stress also helps us view problems as challenges, thereby encouraging creative thought, which in turn stimulates creative thinking. Another benefit of short-term stress is the activation of “fight-or-flight” mechanisms which help mobilize us when we are faced with imminent danger or threat.
Severe, unpredictable, chronic stress on the other hand, sensitizes nerve pathways and overworks parts of the brain that are involved in responses to anxiety and fear, such as the limbic system. When the limbic system is activated for extended periods of time, then other regions of the brain involved in thought and immune system responses are put in a holding pattern. Our bodies then view stressful events as emergency situations, whereby protecting one’s self from the stressor takes priority.
The bottom line regarding stress is this: It’s not the stressor itself, but the impact of the stressor and how the individual deals with it that contributes to stress being “good” or “bad.”