Just a Little Bit of Stress Makes Us Smarter, Healthier

Chronic stress is bad for you, causing or contributing to conditions like heart disease, anxiety, and arthritis. Occasional stress, on the other hand, can actually be good for you. Here's why.

Eustress, the technical name for that surge we feel when we're excited or engaged (or on a roller coaster) can actually improve our perception of our lives. This is different from acute stress, however, which is the kind you're probably more familiar with -- that's what you feel when you have to respond to a stressor in some way, and are getting no thrill out of it at all.

But even acute stress can be positive, for a very short period of time. Shana Lebowitz at Lifehacker writes:

"For a while now, researchers have suspected that the effect of stress on the (rat) brain is like an upside-down U: Up to a certain point, stress boosts cognitive function; after that, it starts to take a negative toll."

Recent research bears out that assumption, as well as suggesting that acute stress might have a beneficial effect on immune function -- at least if you're a lab rat.

Rats and humans alike still respond poorly to chronic stress. So if you want to get the benefits of the occasional sense of urgency in your job or your life, make sure it's not a constant fixture.

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