Even if it feels like an anvil is looming over your head, the approaching deadline that is stressing you out at work may actually be healthy for your brain, according to recent study from the Youth Development Institute at the University of Georgia.
The study’s results were released in the journal Psychiatry Research. According to the study, low to moderate amounts of stress can foster resilience in people and lower their risk of mental health issues including depression and antisocial behaviour. Low to moderate levels of stress can also assist people manage difficult situations in the future.
“If you’re in an environment where you have some level of stress, you may develop coping mechanisms that will allow you to become a more efficient and effective worker and organize yourself in a way that will help you perform,” said Assaf Oshri, lead author of the study and an associate professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
Work Related Stress
Stress from preparing for a major meeting at work, studying for an exam, or working longer hours to finish a sale may all help you grow as a person. For instance, a writer’s style may change after being rejected by a publisher. Additionally, getting fired could make someone reevaluate their skills and decide whether to pursue new opportunities or stick with what they know best.However, there is a fine line between healthy stress and excessive stress.
“It’s like when you keep doing something hard and get a little callous on your skin,” continued Oshri, who also directs the UGA Youth Development Institute. “You trigger your skin to adapt to this pressure you are applying to it. But if you do too much, you’re going to cut your skin.”
A healthy amount of stress can protect against the negative effects of future hardship.
The Nationwide Institutes of Health-funded Human Connectome Project, a national initiative that attempts to shed light on how the human brain operates, provided the researchers with the data they needed.
A questionnaire that is frequently used in research to gauge how chaotic and stressful people feel their life was used to collect data from more than 1,200 young adults who reported their perceived stress levels for the current study.
Participants answered questions about how frequently they experienced certain thoughts or feelings, such as “in the last month, how often have you been upset because of something that happened unexpectedly?” and “in the last month, how often have you found that you could not cope with all the things that you had to do?”
Then, tests were used to evaluate their neurocognitive abilities, including measures of working memory, processing speed, picture sequence memory, attention, the capacity to suppress automatic responses to visual stimuli, cognitive flexibility, or the capacity to switch between tasks, and cognitive flexibility.
In addition to other behavioural and emotional issues, the participants’ responses to several measures of anxiety, attention issues, and aggressiveness were compared to the researchers’ findings.
According to the investigation, low to moderate levels of stress were psychologically advantageous and may even serve as a preventative measure for the onset of mental health symptoms.
“Most of us have some adverse experiences that actually make us stronger,” Oshri said. “There are specific experiences that can help you evolve or develop skills that will prepare you for the future.”
But each person has a different level of tolerance for stress and adversity.
How successfully people handle problems depends on a variety of factors, including age, genetic predispositions, and having a strong support system. Oshri cautions that while a little stress might be beneficial for cognition, sustained excessive levels of stress can be extremely harmful to the body and mind.
“At a certain point, stress becomes toxic,” he said. “Chronic stress, like the stress that comes from living in abject poverty or being abused, can have very bad health and psychological consequences. It affects everything from your immune system, to emotional regulation, to brain functioning. Not all stress is good stress.”