Yes, stress has a negative effect on our health. It can raise our blood pressure, increase the risk of heart disease, and contribute to obesity and other illnesses. And that may seem like reason enough to quit your high-pressure job, but before you throw in the towel and dust off your resume, there's something you should know about job-related stress.
As much as you'd like to banish all that frustration from your life, consider that your constant 9-to-5 headache may be making you healthier. Yep, you read that correctly. Recent research found that a moderate amount of everyday stress has a surprising positive effect on the brain and body. Now, this doesn't mean you should run out and get the most stressful job you can find, or stay in occupations that push you over the edge. There's good stress and there's bad stress, and it's important to understand how each affects the human body. Chronic stress, which lasts for weeks or months, is bad stress, and can trigger long-term problems. But considering that our bodies are wired to react to stress, the everyday pressures you deal with at work aren't necessarily a bad thing. Here's why.
1. It Improves Brainpower
Whether you're facing tight deadlines or preparing for an upcoming meeting with a difficult client, these types of situations can increase your stress level and send you into panic mode. Every job has its fair share of pressure, and at times it can feel as if you have too much on your plate. These aren't the most favorable circumstances, but the upside is that manageable amounts of stress can improve your brainpower. This not only helps you perform better on the job, it also boosts cognitive function over time.
The reason is that moderate stress encourages the production of neurotrophins, a type a brain chemical that supports the growth and survival of nerve cells. So while chronic stress slowly damages brain structure, research shows that short-term stress has the opposite effect and stimulates the growth of new brain cells. A study discovered that exposure to short-lived stress triggered the development of new nerve cells in the brains of laboratory rats. After two weeks, the lab rats had improved mental performance. Researchers concluded that controlled, manageable stress on the job prompts a similar reaction in humans, improving our memory, concentration, and alertness.
Read More: 3 Reasons You Are More Than Your Job
2. It Boosts Your Immune System
Some people who battle ongoing stress notice a difference in their health because too much stress can suppress the immune system. This makes us more susceptible to illness and infections. But with regard to short-term stressors — such as those you might experience at work — these types of demands have the potential to reinforce or strengthen protective chemicals in your body, which can give your immune system a pick-me-up.
High-tense situations set in motion a fight-or-flight response, which is a physiological reaction to a perceived threat. This is an inborn response that prepares your body to fight or flee impending danger. Your heart rate increases, your body releases adrenaline and extra sugar for energy, and you react more instinctively. According to a study by the Stanford University School of Medicine, the fight-or-flight response activated by short-term stress not only jump-starts a spontaneous reaction from your body's resources, it also promotes stronger immune function, which makes it easier for your body to ward off and fight infections.
3. It Lowers Your Risk of Prolonged Stress
Short-term stress also increases resiliency and teaches you how to confront and tackle everyday pressures and demands. The first time you come up against a particular situation, you might crumble or think you don't have strength to handle the hurdle. But the more you face the problem and overcome the stressor, the easier it is to cope in the future.
If you toughen up and develop positive strategies to manage your time and emotions, you're less likely to suffer from chronic stress. As a result, you decrease the risk of health problems triggered by prolonged stress, such as heart disease, cancer, and infections.
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4. It Might Help You Live Longer
Do you want to live longer? Your stressful job might be the secret weapon. A study conducted by the Indiana University found that "employees in stressful positions were a third less likely to die than those with less strenuous jobs." These findings might have you scratching your head, especially since we already know the negative consequences of stress, but the study also revealed that those in stressful positions who lived longer were also in control of their workflow.
The study, which took place between 2004 and 2011 and included thousands of workers, concluded that participants who enjoyed greater flexibility in their stressful jobs were 34% less likely to have died than participants in high-pressure jobs who enjoyed little freedom. One theory is that participants with less control in their high pressure jobs were more likely to adopt unhealthy habits as a way to cope with their circumstances. These habits included overeating (which leads to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart problems), and smoking, which increased the risk of cancer and other health problems.