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Some stress and anxiety can actually be helpful

Some stress and anxiety can actually be helpful. As has reported, stress can have a harmful impact on your health and wellbeing and has been linked to poor sleep and high blood pressure.

But according to Lisa Damour, a psychologist and columnist for the New York Times, not all stress is bad for you. Damour led a presentation about the potential benefits of stress and anxiety at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association

Damour notes that some stress is helpful, and as we learn to manage stress, we become stronger and more resilient when future stressful situations arise. 

People may want to reframe how they think about stress, instead of seeing all stress and anxiety as bad and unhealthy. Some stress and anxiety can actually be helpful

“It’s important for psychologists to share our knowledge about stress with broad audiences: that stress is a given in daily life, that working at the edge of our abilities often builds those capacities and that moderate levels of stress can have an inoculating function, which leads to higher than average resilience when we are faced with new difficulties,” said Damour. 

While research has shown that too much can be toxic, there are positive benefits that are often overlooked.  

Anxiety, for example, serves as an internal alarm and if it is viewed as something protective and helpful, people may be able to decipher these warnings and act accordingly.  

“As all psychologists know, anxiety is an internal alarm system, likely handed down by evolution, that alerts us to threats both external – such as a driver swerving in a nearby lane – and internal – such as when ’we’ve procrastinated too long and it’s time to get started on our work,” said Damour.

Damour counsels her clients to pay attention to those nervous, anxious feelings. A teen who suddenly feels anxious at a party may be feeling wary for a reason, so it’s important to listen to what your nerves are telling you. 

Having anxiety about a test because you haven’t studied is also normal, according to Darmour. 

“Similarly, if a client shares that ’she’s worried about an upcoming test for which she has yet to study, I am quick to reassure her that she is having the right reaction and that ’she’ll feel better as soon as she hits the books,” said Darmour. 

How do we decipher between what is healthy and unhealthy stress and anxiety? In other words, how do we learn not to be stressed about being stressed? 

Chronic or traumatic stress can be unhealthy, and too much stress may make it impossible for a person to cope or build up a tolerance. 

Anxiety can also be unhealthy when the alarm system overreacts to a threat or ‘goes off’ for no reason. 

When left untreated, stress and anxiety can be a serious detriment to health and well-being, which is why Damour is adamant about rethinking our relationship with stress. 

“Psychologists are good at taking a more measured approach to thinking about the human experience,” said Damour. “We want to support well-being, but ’don’t set the bar at being happy nearly all of the time. That is a dangerous idea because it is unnecessary and unachievable,” she said. “If you are under the impression that you should always be joyful, your day-to-day experience may ultimately turn out to be pretty miserable.”

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer 

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Aaron Amat

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