Why stress and anxiety are not always bad

In a new scientific presentation, researchers found that stress and anxiety are not always bad. They often play a helpful, not harmful, role in people’s daily lives.

Many Americans now feel stressed about being stressed and anxious about being anxious.

Unfortunately, by the time someone reaches out to a professional for help, stress and anxiety have already built to unhealthy levels.

Stress usually occurs when people operate at the edge of their abilities—when they push themselves or are forced by circumstances to stretch beyond their familiar limits.

It’s also important to understand that stress can result from both bad and good events.

For instance, being fired is stressful but so is bringing a baby home for the first time.

Researchers say that moderate levels of stress can have an inoculating function, which leads to higher than average resilience when people are faced with new difficulties.

Anxiety, too, gets an unnecessarily bad rap. It is an internal alarm system. Viewing anxiety as sometimes helpful and protective allows people to make good use of it.

Researchers suggest that stress and anxiety can become unhealthy if it is chronic (allowing for no possibility of recovery) or if it is traumatic (psychologically catastrophic).

They cause harms when they exceed any level that a person can reasonably absorb or use to build psychological strength.

Untreated stress and anxiety can cause persistent misery but can also contribute to a host of additional psychological and medical symptoms, such as depression or an increased risk of heart disease.

Researchers suggest anyone feeling overwhelmed by stress should take measures to reduce his or her stress and/or seek help from a trained professional to learn stress management strategies.

For the management of anxiety, some people find relief through workbooks that help them to evaluate and challenge their own irrational thoughts.

If that approach isn’t successful or preferred, a trained professional should be consulted

In recent years, mindfulness techniques have also emerged as an effective approach to addressing both stress and anxiety.

The presenter is Lisa Damour, Ph.D., a private-practice psychologist.

The study was presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

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