The Upside Of Stress: It Can Make You Better At Your Job

Chronic stress will wreck your health. Acute stress can build your intelligence. Learn the difference here.

A new study from the University of California suggests that the right amount of stress can help you--if you're a rat. And probably if you're a human.

As Shana Lebowitz writes on Greatist, the researchers subjected rats to acute stress, which prompted brief spikes in stress hormone levels--and a later growth in brain cells.

(Note: we can't yet measure neural stem cells in the human brain, thus the rodent testing.)

As she explains in detail in the original post, the experiment showed that the stress spurred growth in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that's responsible for memory. In generalized terms, acute stress made the rats smarter.

What do rat brains mean for your brain?

Plenty--both for your intelligence and your health. As Lebowitz notes, the hormones triggered by acute stress can fight off infection, but chronic stress increases the risk of disease. In other words, it's the frequency of stressors that predict if the tension is helpful or harmful:

Together these findings imply that acute stress--think a job interview or even a ride on a scary rollercoaster--might actually be necessary for our physical and mental health. It’s chronic stress--like being stuck in a bad job or relationship--that causes our health to decline, contributing to issues as serious as heart disease and obesity.

This leaves us with two questions: how to handle acute stress and how to recognize chronic stress, especially in the work that we do.

Thankfully, some smart people have tackled those subjects:

  • Train your stress response: Resilient people encounter new things as challenges to be overcome rather than dangers to be avoided. It's a skill you can learn.
  • Recognize chronic stress: Chronic office stress leads to burnout--a disengagement with your working life--so learn how to prevent it.

Why a little bit of stress is good for you

[Mouse Maze: Fer Gregory via Shutterstock]

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