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"When the body responds to stress, it prepares itself for the possibility of injury or infection," says Richard Shelton, MD, vice chair for research in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Alabama Birmingham, in an interview with Health.com. "One way it does this is by producing extra interleukins -- chemicals that help regulate the immune system -- providing at least a temporary defensive boost."
Shelton also tells Health.com that good stress can (temporarily) boost brain power and improve resilience by teaching us how to deal with stressful situations.
So how can we tell when stress is good, and when it's bad? Good stress...
1. ...arises in specific situations.
"So-called "good stress," or what psychologists refer to as 'eustress,' is the type of stress we feel when we feel excited," writes Elizabeth Scott at About.com's Stress Management site. "Our pulse quickens, our hormones change, but there is no threat or fear. We feel this type of stress when we ride a roller coaster, gun for a promotion, or go on a first date. There are many triggers for this good stress, and it keeps us feeling alive and excited about life."
2. ...has positive triggers.
Note that Scott's examples either fun (roller coasters) or exciting (going for that promotion). If the stressor is perceived as a threat, you're dealing with acute stress, which raises cortisol and adrenaline levels.
3. ...goes away.
Healthy stress should be of short duration. The kind of stress you feel when you wake up every morning, dreading your job, is chronic stress, which can lead to health problems like anxiety, heart disease, and digestive problems, as well as memory impairment and an inability to concentrate.
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