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Can Some Stress Be Good for You?

By: Danielle Bertini, LPC 

           Stress definitely has a bad reputation, and for good reasons. When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, not many people are wishing for “more stress” in the year to come. And there is science to back this up, as stress is often linked with negative health and well-being outcomes.

           However, Stanford psychologist Alia Crum and her colleagues write about how “the truth of stress is not so grim” (Pogosyan, 2020). From physical thriving to post-traumatic growth, stress can have some surprising benefits. It can also be a key ingredient in many accomplishments, from career success, to raising children, and even important relationships. Although it would be ideal to achieve our goals with as smooth of a road as possible, stress is usually inevitable on this journey. And if stress is going to join in on the ride, we might as well befriend it rather than constantly fight against it.

           Crum argues that there are ways to optimize stress, and it starts with our mindsets. The way we evaluate stress has important implications for how we deal with stress when it ultimately arises. For example, if we think of stress as “bad for me,” then you are more likely to carry the additional burden of being stressed about stress. On the other hand, if you view stress as being “good for me,” then according to Crum you are more likely 1) not add further strain to the event by worrying about being stressed 2) accept the stress, and 3) feel empowered to take on the stress and achieve your goals (Pogosyan, 2020).

           Pogosyan (2020) outlines four regulation strategies from Crum’s integrated approach to optimize stress.

  1.     Choose the right situations

It’s important to be on the lookout for situations that help create opportunities for growth and discovery. Examples of this might be standing up for yourself in regards to unfair treatment at work, even if it involves difficult conversations, or signing up for a marathon, even if it requires months of training.

  1.     Pay attention

Use your attention wisely. It can be helpful to focus on the opportunities (whether expected or unexpected) that come with stress rather than dwelling and ruminating on all the associated negatives. An example of this might be, rather than focusing on how nervous you are about an upcoming presentation, shifting your attention to ways you can spend more time to prepare to achieve your goal. Research has shown that when you shift your attention to thinking of stress as more functional than threatening, it can increase positive affect.

  1.     Change the way you think

Sometimes your mindset is everything. You can regulate your emotions by choosing new ways to think about situations, stressors, and your abilities to manage it. For example, instead of coping with a stressful situation by ignoring or minimizing the stress, such as, “I’m not going to stress out. I’m not going to stress out. I’m not going to stress out…,” you can change the way you perceive the stressor, such as, “I am going to have more presentations in the future. So, the more practice I get, the more experience I have, and the easier it will be in the future.”

  1.     Modify your behavioral and psychological response

Another way to use stress in a healthier way is to optimize it rather than suppressing or numbing it. For example, often times before stressful games athletes rely on various techniques to regulate their arousal in order to perform well. This might be things like pumping themselves up with music or motivational pep talks, or even breathing techniques. 

           Stress is an inevitable part of life, and it can both harm and help us. However, the way we choose to respond to stressors can have important implications for our health and well-being. If you find yourself struggling with managing stress, you may find it helpful to talk with one of our counselors in Chicago at Symmetry Counseling. You can contact Symmetry today by calling 312-578-9990 to get matched with one of our licensed counselors. 


Pogosyan, M. (2020, August 20). Stress Can Be Good for You. 

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