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Certain kinds of stress might be advantageous for brain function

In a study that was published in Psychiatry Research, researchers discovered that low to moderate amounts of stress can foster resilience in people and lower their risk of mental health disorders including depression and antisocial behaviour. 

Stress from preparing for a major meeting at work, studying for an exam, or working longer hours to finish a deal can all help you grow as a person.

Low to moderate levels of stress can also assist people manage difficult situations in the future.

For instance, a writer’s style may change after being rejected by a publisher. Additionally, getting fired might make someone reevaluate their skills and decide whether to pursue new opportunities or stick with what they know best.

“If you’re in an environment where you have some level of stress, you may develop coping mechanisms that will allow you to become a more efficient and effective work and organize yourself in a way that will help you perform,” said Assaf Oshri, lead author of the study and an associate professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “It’s like when you keep doing something hard and get a little callous on your skin,” continued Oshri, who also directs the UGA Youth Development Institute. “You trigger your skin to adapt to this pressure you are applying to it. But if you do too much, you’re going to cut your skin.”

However, there is a fine line between healthy stress and excessive stress.

The Human Connectome Project‘s data was used by the researchers. A questionnaire that is frequently used in research to gauge how chaotic and stressful people find their life was used to collect data from more than 1,200 young adults who reported their perceived stress levels for the current study.

In response to questions like “How often have you felt unhappy because of something that happened unexpectedly in the previous month,” participants indicated how frequently they had various thoughts or feelings. and “How frequently in the past month did you feel like you couldn’t keep up with everything you had to do?”

Then, tests were used to evaluate their neurocognitive abilities, including measures of working memory, processing speed, picture sequence memory, attention, the capacity to suppress instinctive reactions to visual stimuli, cognitive flexibility, or the capacity to switch between tasks, and cognitive flexibility. In addition to other behavioural and emotional issues, the participants’ responses to several measures of anxiety, attention issues, and aggression were compared to the researchers’ findings.

According to the investigation, low to moderate levels of stress were psychologically advantageous and may even serve as a preventative measure for the onset of mental health symptoms.

“Most of us have some adverse experiences that make us stronger,” Oshri said. “There are specific experiences that can help you evolve or develop skills that will prepare you for the future.”

So each person has a different level of tolerance for stress and adversity. How successfully people handle obstacles depends on a variety of factors, including their age, genetic factors, and the support of a society.

Oshri cautions that although little stress might be beneficial for cognition, sustained excessive levels of stress can be extremely harmful to the body and mind.

“At a certain point, stress becomes toxic,” he said. “Chronic stress, like the stress that comes from living in abject poverty or being abused, can have very bad health and psychological consequences. It affects everything from your immune system to emotional regulation, to brain functioning. Not all stress is good stress.”

Certain kinds of stress might be advantageous for brain function

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