The Hidden Health Benefits of Stress

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles | May 2, 2018

Can stress make you happy and healthy? After years of trying to avoid stress, as well as finding positive and productive coping mechanisms such as meditation, yoga and other stress management techniques, some evidence suggests that some stress can promote happiness, physical wellbeing and personal growth. It all depends on your outlook on stress.

Good Stress vs Bad Stress

We respond to positive stress and negative stress very differently – at least we think we do! There is joyful stress like the anticipation of a friend’s visit or waiting for a new baby to arrive. There is also traumatic stress such as a death of a loved one, a car accident or a cancer diagnosis. In addition, there is chronic stress from circumstances such as an unhealthy relationship or a dead end job.

Data from a University of Wisconsin Health Interview Survey concluded that people who have experienced high levels of stress and perceived the stress as something that negatively affects their health put themselves at risk for the potential harms of stress. On the flip side, however, people who viewed stress as a positive “challenge to overcome” increased their overall health and longevity.

Our immune response are boosted when stressful events are perceived as positive. Biochemically, your body responds to stress by releasing pathogen-fighting cells in the bloodstream within 15 minutes of a stressful event. This signals the body to ignite the cascade of events which is known as our immune response. In other words, stress can actually strengthen our immunity.

During chronic stress, however, the long term release of cortisol can become hazardous to our health. Physically, this can lead to inflammation, overeating, and memory impairment. Psychologically, stress can contribute to depression, anxiety and mood swings.

People have faced difficult ordeals but reported experiencing personal growth after traumatic events. Some have turned stressful events into major positive lifestyle changes.

The bottom line when it comes to stress is that it’s an inevitable part of life. We will all continue to encounter stressful situations and events on a regular basis. Some stress will shake us and test us, while some stress will be positive, joyful and fun. When the stress is negative or traumatic, we need to mindfully alter our perception of that stress in order to make sure it helps us and not hurt us. We hold that power!

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Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles

Jenn Giles, R.D., C.S.S.D. is all about health and wellness. She has over 15 years’ experience, including a dual master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. She is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She supplements all of this with her spin instructor certification and USATriathlon Level I Coach Certification.

Jennifer is passionate about (actually, obsessed with) the sport of triathlon. She has been personally participating in triathlons since 2000 and running road races since 1992. She is a two-time Ironman finisher and has completed countless numerous marathons. She has been a member of Power Bar Team Elite since 2006 and competed as a member of the 2006 Aquaphor/ Sponsored Athlete Team. She was ranked as USAT All American Honorable mention in 2006 and 2011. Jennifer does all of this along side of her husband, Patrick, who is an equally accomplished triathlete and runner. They try as hard as they can to do all of their training and racing together.

She will tell you, however, that her most important, most rewarding and most challenging job is as a mother of four. She knows first hand the challenges of maintaining optimal fitness, overall good health and achieving goals while raising a family - of which good nutrition is the cornerstone.

Most importantly, she knows how to motivate, inspire and challenge athletes based on their own abilities, strengths and everyday lifestyles. She believes there is an athlete in everyone - no matter what their abilities are – and if those abilities are manifold, then there is an even better athlete in there!

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