Why some workplace stress is good for you

Why some workplace stress is good for you

There’s a lot of literature advising how to combat stress, do away with office anxiety and improve work-life balance.

However, a 2013 report by Daniela Kaufer, Associate Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, found that some work stress may actually be positive.

“Some amounts of stress are good to push you just to the level of optimal alertness, behavioural and cognitive performance,” explained Kaufer to Berkeley News.

“I think intermittent stressful events are probably what keeps the brain more alert, and you perform better when you are alert.”

The study, which was performed on rats, found that significant but short stressful events caused stem cells to proliferate into nerve cells – and, two weeks later, actually improved mental performance.

Bruce McEwen, Head of the Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at The Rockefeller University, believe this is down to evolution. They say the findings, “in general, reinforce the notion that stress hormones help an animal adapt – after all, remembering the place where something stressful happened is beneficial to deal with future situations in the same place.”

The research found that, whilst the rats performed better two weeks after the stressful event, they did not perform well in the immediate aftermath. Acute stress levels can be harmful, though researchers are still trying to determine whether a response to stress is good or not.

“I think the ultimate message is an optimistic one,” concluded Kaufer. “Stress can be something that makes you better, but it is a question of how much, how long and how you interpret or perceive it.”

So, the next time you’re drowning in deadlines, remember – in two weeks’ time, you’ll probably be golden. 

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