Is Stress Ever A Good Thing? Actually, Yes—Here's What You Need To Know

At Silk + Sonder, so much of what we do is centered on reducing stress. Looking to sneak moments of self-care in? You can add a nightly bubble bath or morning walk to your habit tracker. Hoping to become more mindful (and therefore less stressed out) about money? Start recording your spending in our expense tracker. And if you're having trouble figuring out why you're stressed out at all, journaling prompts and your mood tracker can help with that. 

April is stress awareness month, and the current state of the world has many of us more stressed out than ever. Rather than provide you with another article of stress-busting tips, we decided to challenge the way we think about stress and ask ourselves: Can stress ever be a good thing? The answer might be yes. Here's how you can use stress in your favor. 

What is stress, anyway? 

We hear the word "stress" tossed around all the time. We're stressed about work, school, cleaning the house, getting the kids out the door in the morning, the list goes on and on. But what does this oftentimes overused word actually mean? 

"Stress generally refers to two mechanisms. The first is our psychological response to perceived pressure, and the other is the way in which our bodies, from muscle to memory, experience this pressure," explains Dr. Sarah Kwan, licensed psychologist

In other words, we can feel stress in our minds and in our bodies. Some physical signs of stress could include jaw tension, headaches, low energy and insomnia, to name a few. Psychological responses could include anger, irritability, restlessness, or inability to concentrate. 

Dr. Kwan adds that stress does indeed have upsides. In fact, it actually has a bit of a "sweet spot," or a point in which it can propel us forward and helps us reach our goals. "Helpful, optimal stress is somewhere between low stimulation and high stimulation and can provide the concentration and energy needed to move something forward," she explains.

So while over the longterm high stress can be detrimental to our health, in a short term, medium stress capacity, it can be the catalyst for helping us move something forward. How would we ever get anything done if there was no urgency around it? In short, stress can help us hit that deadline, finish writing that paper, or ace that exam. 

Even the bad kind of stress can be useful. 

We know there's a type of stress that can be motivating and even helpful, but what about the kind that is, without a doubt, flat-out awful? While living in a state of extreme stress is terrible for your physical and emotional health, it can be useful in that it serves as an alarm bell that something needs to change. 

"Once we learn to connect with our bodies and tune into our inner worlds, we can come to see our stressful bodily sensations as a sort of smoke alarm," Dr. Kwan explains. "Although the physical sensations and mental thoughts may be distressing, if we can recognize our reaction as built-in alerts, letting us know when to slow down and invest in self-care, we can reframe stress as a friendly reminder rather than something to be feared."

If, for example, your job is stressing you out to the point where you can't sleep at night, you're constantly snapping at your family and can't make any time for yourself, it may eventually lead to an "aha" moment that causes you to quit your job and embark on a career path that leaves you less stressed out and a whole lot happier. While going through this experience isn't ideal, it can help you tune in to certain signals your body is giving you sooner rather than later, and make a proactive change before your stress becomes chronic. 

Has stress ever been a launching point for you? Let us know in the comments. And while you're at it, make sure to subscribe to Silk + Sonder today. 

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