1. It helps the body ward off colds and infections
Stress as an immunity mechanism? It’s true! For example, if you’re feeling deadline pressure in the short-term, your body will most likely work overtime to keep you well. That’s because some stress is helpful to rev your immune system to fight off viruses and bacteria since it’s the stress-regulating adrenal glands that balance immunity. “These glands help release cortisol, an anti-inflammatory, in response to either physical or emotional stressors so you can tap into your energy reserves and resist infection,” says Dr Teitelbaum. It’s when your stress levels stay high for more than a few hours that you can exhaust your adrenal glands and become prone to getting sick and run down. The upshot? Keep your eye on your stress levels and don’t overdo it!
2. It can help speed up recovery after surgery
Let’s be honest: going under the knife is never relaxing. But the short-term stress of surgery can actually help you to heal faster. “The biological changes that take place during short-term stress are the brain’s way of preparing the body for something stressful that is about to happen or is already happening,” explains Firdaus Dhabhar, PhD, director of research at the Stanford Center on Stress and Health in the US. The idea is that short-term stress hormones surge through the body and get your system ready for the fast healing that will need to take place.
So, how does it do this? By triggering the release of the body’s ‘soldiers’ or immune cells into the bloodstream and redirecting those fighter cells to where they’re most needed for healing. Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine tested this hypothesis in humans by collecting a series of blood samples from 57 patients undergoing knee surgery before and after the procedure. Patients whose immune systems responded to the stress of surgery by mobilising and redistributing large numbers of pathogen-fighting cells recovered more quickly and completely.
3. It helps you bond with those around you
Picture this: you’re stuck in a lift for an hour with 10 strangers. By the time you’re rescued, you know each other’s life stories and have exchanged email addresses. The reason? Short-term stress has been shown to boost levels of oxytocin, also known as the bonding hormone, says stress expert Kathleen Hall, PhD.
“Oxytocin actually inhibits the production of stress hormones such as adrenaline and reduces blood pressure by dilating the arteries to help buffer the body from the more negative affects of anxiety.”
4. It enhances your short-term memory
Have you ever been in a stressful situation where your mind felt super-aware and laser-sharp? It’s the rush of hormones to the prefrontal cortex (a brain region important for controlling cognition and emotion) that may boost your working memory—the short-term kind used in problem solving and processing sensory information. While some studies link chronic stress to the development of brain plaques tied to Alzheimer’s, acute stress has been shown to improve recall.
5. It boosts resilience to life’s ups and downs
There’s something to be said for the character-building qualities of a little bit of adversity. We all encounter stressful situations, whether that’s work pressures or relationship meltdowns. At the time, it may not feel like there’s much of a positive to be had, but those feelings of stress could be life-changing—in a good way! When psychologists recently asked nearly 2400 people about their history of adverse experiences, they found that those who had faced misfortune were actually more well adjusted than those who’d had no bumps in the road at all.
“Having to deal with challenges may toughen us up,” explains psychologist Mark Seery, PhD, lead author of the study. “And that leaves us much better equipped to deal with challenges.”