Stress is commonly thought of as a negative and harmful factor that not only ruins a good day but can also shorten your lifespan. But what if this is only one piece of the puzzle?

While there is no denying that stress over a long period of time can certainly do both mental and physical harm, Kirsten Aschbacher of the University of California, San Francisco and her colleagues performed a test to determine whether short spurts of stress could actually be beneficial for the body.

They took a test group of stressed women and a control group of non-stressed women and asked them both to give speeches in front of an audience. What Aschbacher discovered after measuring both groups’ levels of hormone cortisol, plus biochemical markers of damage inside their cells, was that, among the group without chronic stress, those who found giving the speech moderately stressful had less cellular damage than those who didn’t find it stressful at all. Jo Marchant of NewScientist explains: “While chronic stress can have knock-on effects that damage cellular structures, short bursts of stress can reduce such damage and protect our health in some circumstances.” In other words, if you are able to reasonably manage your stress on a day-to-day basis, then occasional stress can help you keep your cool under pressure, and even make you better at cognitive tasks.

While extreme or chronic stress or anxiety should be taken care of, don’t be afraid to ride the occasional wave of stress. Aschbacher explains that it’s kind of “like weightlifting, where we build muscles over time.” Build up your own muscle by taking control of your daily stress and approaching the occasional anxiety-inducing situation as a challenge rather than a burden. Over time, it could make you stronger in the face of stress—and may even help you live longer.


Photo of stressed person courtesy of Shutterstock.