Stress can be helpful (short of pulling out your hair because you haven't started that art project that's due in two hours). Stress can benefit the immune system, preparing the body to withstand things like surgery and infections, and also pushes us to be most effective at the tasks at hand. Bring on the triple-bypass surgery, because I've had enough stress to boost my immune system to super human levels.
A brief bout of stress can give the immune system a beneficial boost but only under certain conditions, say researchers at Ohio State University. Their experiments, reported inProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that short periods of stress mobilized all major types of immune cells, or leukocytes, to potential infection sites around the body. The researchers say this stress-induced boost in the number of immune cells may be advantageous for fighting infections and other diseases.
"Acute stress could help increase immune protection. An increase in leukocyte activity and availability may enhance the immune system's ability to protect the body during surgery, vaccination or during an infection," said Firdaus Dhabhar, the study's lead author. There is a downside however, ushering an increased number of immune cells to sites of potential immune reaction could worsen pre-existing inflammatory illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, gingivitis and autoimmune disorders such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis or psoriasis. But Dhabhar believes further research could help tame inappropriate immune responses.
"Most immune challenges or wounds involve on the skin or other epithelial linings of the body. If nothing happens immunologically following stress - the skin isn't cut or wounded in some other way - activated leukocytes usually return to their resting position in a few hours," Dhabar said.
Although relaxation ought to be, um, relaxing, stress management has somehow become yet another pressing item on our to-do lists. We're made to feel like failures if we can't live in a state of balance. But stress is good. Great, even. The discomfort of stress is a sign that you are tackling life's problems head-on. Stress also improves productivity and performance - at work, at the gym - and your body will be stronger if you alternate periods of calm and heart-pounding excitement.
If you want a pretty healthy life, your goal is not to completely avoid stress and lounge in your pj's all day. Not only is the couch-potato life boring, it's a classic sign of clinical depression. Your goal is to bring on a reasonable amount of challenge and excitement - and amass a repertoire of strategies to keep you from being overwhelmed when life throws you a few too many curveballs.
Once stress reaches a certain level, however, productivity goes down. Too much stress can lead to sleep problems and irritability and, over the long term, is linked to high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. Know this: Sometimes stress will get the better of you. A crucial aspect of stress management is self-acceptance - knowing that you are, for example, a stress eater. There may be days when you are so frustrated that you eat a pound of fettuccine Alfredo. It happens. Do what you can to prevent these reactions - meditate, keep a food diary - and then move on.
MeditationPeople get nervous about trying this, but it's not hard. Find a quiet place to sit. Then think of a mantra, which is a sound, word, or phrase that has a peaceful or neutral meaning to you. The classic mantra is "om," but you can also try "stillness," or "calm blue ocean," or anything that feels right. Breathe in and say your mantra to yourself; exhale and say it again.