Chronic stress releases cortisol and adrenaline, which over time, can wreak havoc with sleep, mood, memory, focus, and immunity. Control stress to stay healthy.

Good stress vs. bad stress

How to know when stress crosses the line from good to bad 

Stress affects everyone. And like everyone, stress comes in all shapes and sizes: big stress, little stress, periodic stress, chronic stress, bad stress, and good stress. 

You may be saying: Good stress? What’s good about stress? 

First, let’s look at what stress is. The American Institute of Stress defines stress as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.”1 

Once the brain interprets a situation as stressful, it triggers a series of reactions that affect every system in your body.

It releases stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, causing a “fight or flight” response that prepares you to react to threatening, competitive, or urgent situations. This includes accelerated heart rate and pulse, raised blood pressure, faster breathing, and muscle tension. 

Good stress can be good – in moderation 

If stress is a response to a demand for change, and not all change is bad, then all stress can’t be bad, right? 

Good stress happens when we feel energized or excited by something: a challenge, an opportunity, or an event. For example, pursuing a job opportunity, learning something new, or exercising. 

These events can trigger a stress response in the body, but it feels like a good response. This kind of stress propels you into positive action. In moderation, good stress is good. 

Chronic stress is bad stress 

Bad stress is the kind of stress that feels heavy, overwhelming, and sometimes unbearable. For example, work overload, childcare demands, relationship challenges, and financial pressures. 

This kind of stress is often short-lived (acute) and can be helpful in responding to dangerous or threatening situations. 

But when stress becomes chronic, it can wreak havoc on your mood and sleep as well as your physical health. In this case you might feel constantly fearful or anxious.

Physical and mental effects of chronic stress 

When a real or perceived threat comes and goes, so does the stress response, typically. Hormone levels fall as blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing go back to normal. 

But when stressors are ever-present, or chronic, the stress response remains heightened. The constant presence of stress hormones triggers nearly every system in the body, affecting your physical and mental health in important ways: 

  • Sleep: When stress levels remain high, you may remain alert for longer, including during the night, which makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep
  • Memory and focus: Stress causes distraction, while sleeplessness can affect memory and focus 
  • Weakened immune system: Because cortisol affects immune system responses, long-term stress can weaken your immunity, leaving you susceptible to colds, flu and other diseases, as well as infections 
  • Weight gain: Cortisol increases cravings for sugary and fatty foods that can lead to weight gain, which when left unchecked, can lead to other health issues, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease  
  • Mental health problems: Long-term exposure to stress can lead to feelings of irritability, anxiety and depression
  • Increased risk for heart attack and stroke: Prolonged stress can lead to increased inflammation in arteries, increasing the risk for cardiac events  

Managing chronic stress 

Don’t get the wrong idea about stress hormones and inflammation. They both serve important purposes in the body. For example, cortisol helps regulate the wake-sleep cycle and helps manage inflammation and blood sugar2.  It’s when they become excessive that they can start to become damaging to physical and mental health. Therefore, it’s important to balance the stress response and keep stress hormones in check.  

For many of us, it may be impossible to avoid stress altogether, so we need to find healthy ways to manage the effects of stress. 

It’s important to recognize when you’re experiencing ongoing stress and identify the cause or causes. If you can’t eliminate it, here are some ways you can minimize or reduce stress: 

  • Meditate: Deep breathing and relaxation can slow down the heart rate 
  • Exercise: Exercise can improve blood flow, boost energy, and improve your mood through the release of endorphins
  • Eat well: don’t skip meals (hangry, anyone?); focus on healthy foods that provide energy, such as veggies, fruits, whole grains, and protein 
  • Spend time with friends: Friends can help you feel supported during stressful times 
  • Focus on a hobby: Taking your mind off of stressful events for even a little while can reduce your heart rate and blood pressure and restore normal breathing patterns 
  • Supplement your nutrition: In addition to nutrition and lifestyle changes, natural supplements for anxiety and stress, such as those containing herbs like ashwagandha and rhodiola can help lower cortisol levels in the body.3 Talk to your healthcare provider about what might be safest for you. 
  • Get help: Talking to a therapist can help you understand the root of your stress and explore ways to cope  

1 American Institute of Stress 



*Blog is for educational purposes only*

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