Stress is almost always the bad guy in life, but—surprise!—small or moderate amounts of it may actually make you feel stronger, smarter, and happier.
Stress isn’t all bad. In fact, a little can actually be good for you. What psychologists call “eustress” is the kind of stress you feel when you’re excited about, say, a first date, or when you’re watching a scary movie or successfully meeting a challenge at work. Keep reading for 10 surprising ways stress can be good for you (yes, really!).
Stress may make your brain grow
You know the old saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”? That can be applied to stress, too, as short periods of stress can actually help the brain improve. In a study published in 2013 in eLife, researchers placed rats in a short-term stressful situation (they were immobilized in their cage for a few hours), and the experience doubled the growth of new brain cells.
The rodents also did better on a memory test later on. The researchers think the same thing happens in people—manageable stress increases alertness and performance. “When we experience stress, we have an increase in arousal, which signals to us that something important is happening,” explains Bethany Teachman, PhD, a professor of psychology at University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
“If we appraise the situation as challenging but manageable, then the arousal helps us focus and direct effort toward addressing the challenge. Think about how difficult it is to give a good presentation or performance if you feel no arousal at all.”