Live Well
September 2014

The Benefits of a Stress-full Life?

Many of my past articles have highlighted how stress is detrimental to our health. I recently read an article noting the benefits of stress and I would like to explore these with you.

As I noted in my previous blog post, in hunter-gatherer societies, stress came in the form of attacks by large animals (bears, lions, etc…). The body would initiate processes to protect itself from the attack (what we often hear of as “fight-or-flight”). The ultimate goal was speed and strength to either run away or fight the large animal. In order to do this, processes considered “non-essential” by the body were temporarily shut down, so that the body could focus on the task at hand, fighting or fleeing. When we are under stress, the same process happens. Unfortunately, our brains and bodies can’t differentiate a bear attack from being late for work. Today, we have become chronically stressed, which has been shown to be harmful to our health (see my previous blog posts for more information on this).

However, I recently read an article called “Turn up the stress” in The Intelligent Optimist stating that stress can actually be beneficial. As the author notes, “But with all these attempts to reduce stress, we can easily forget why stress exists in the first place. It is no useless remnant from our hunter-gatherer period, when saber-toothed tigers lay in ambush. “No one has ever achieved anything substantial in life without stress,” says Theo Compernolle, a neuropsychiatrist and stress consultant for the business world.” According to an article in Woman’s Day magazine, there are several ways in which stress can actually be beneficial to us:

  1. It can encourage us to be more creative, or to approach difficult situations in creative or innovative ways.
  2. The cortisol released when we are under stress, also strengthens our immune system. The key here is making sure that we are not under constant stress, and producing too much cortisol because that can be detrimental to our health.
  3. The physical stress we experience when we exercise is healthy for us and can also help us manage mental or emotional stress better.
  4. Stress helps keep us and our loved ones safe, and also help us become more resilient when faced with adversity because it forces us to find ways to cope in difficult situations.

Stress can go from being beneficial to us to being detrimental when we are under continuous stress. Research also shows that stress is detrimental to us when we perceive it to be so. According to the article, “A large-scale study done at the University of Wisconsin indicates that there is a connection between the belief that stress is bad for your health and the actual effect of stress on your health. In other words, it’s not just excessive stress that’s bad for you — the belief that stress is bad for you also has negative consequences for your health.” So, if you alter your perception of stress and view it as something beneficial, it can actually be beneficial to you. The article goes on to state that, “…if you expect a positive outcome from a situation, your body reacts differently. Research shows that your blood vessels remain more relaxed. They do not contract so strongly as in a threatening situation… So when you believe that stress helps your body to get ready for a certain challenge, your body believes you, and this stress can then be used to perform better.”

The kind of stress that is beneficial to us is acute, or short-term, stress, accompanied by our perception that the stress will ultimately result in a positive outcome. On the other hand, chronic stress — the kind we experience when we are continuously assailed by emails or phone calls, or required to do too many things at once —is what is harmful to us. I still think that we need to be mindful of the stress in our lives and ensure that we find balance so that we are not under constant stress. However, if we can change our perception of stress and see that it might potentially benefit us in some ways, then it may not be so harmful to us after all.


Cook Well

Broccoli, Green Bean and Tomato Salad

Serves 6

2 lbs. broccoli
1 lb. green beans
2 quarts cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
Large pinch of red pepper flakes
3-4 Tbsp. olive oil, or more as desired
Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. 1. Cut broccoli (including stems) into bite-sized pieces, roughly 1″ wide. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil broccoli for 5-6 minutes, until just tender. Transfer to a bowl of ice water.
  2. 2. Cut green beans into 1 1/2″ pieces. Blanch green beans in salted, boiling water until just tender, about 5 to 6 minutes.
  3. 3. Once broccoli is cool, dry on paper towels and place in large salad bowl.
  4. 4. Add cherry tomatoes, red pepper flakes, olive oil, sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper.
  5. 5. Cool green beans on paper towels and add to bowl with broccoli.
  6. 6. Let stand for 20 minutes before serving.


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Upcoming Events

Please join me at the following book signings:

Costco – Norwalk, CT
September 12, 2014

Costco – Portchester, NY
September 19, 2014