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Low to moderate stress may help boost resilience while reducing risk of mental illness – ScienceDaily


It may feel like an anvil hanging over your head, but a looming deadline that stresses you out at work may be good for your brain, according to new research from the University of Georgia’s Institute for Youth Development.

Published in Psychiatric researchResearch has shown that low to moderate levels of stress can help people develop resilience and reduce the risk of developing mental disorders such as depression and anti-social behaviour. Low to moderate stress can also help people cope with future stressful encounters.

“When you’re in an environment where you have a certain level of stress, you can develop coping mechanisms that allow you to become a more effective and efficient worker and organize yourself in a way that helps you work,” said Assaf Oshri, lead author of the study. and associate professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

The stress of studying for an exam, preparing for a big meeting at work, or working long hours to close a deal can lead to personal growth. For example, a publisher’s rejection can force a writer to rethink their style. And being fired can prompt someone to reassess their strengths and consider whether they should stay in their current field or move on to something new.

But the line between the right amount of stress and too much stress is fine.

“It’s like when you keep doing something hard and your skin gets a little calloused,” continued Oshri, who also directs UGA’s Institute for Youth Development. “You force your skin to adapt to this pressure that you put on it. But if you do too much, you’ll cut your skin.”

Good stress can act as a vaccine against the effects of future adversity

The researchers drew on data from the Human Connectome Project, a national project funded by the National Institutes of Health that aims to shed light on how the human brain functions. For this study, researchers analyzed project data from more than 1,200 young people who reported their stress levels using a questionnaire commonly used in research to determine how uncontrollable and stressful people’s lives are.

Participants answered questions about how often they experienced certain thoughts or feelings, such as, “In the past month, how often have you been upset because of something that happened unexpectedly?” and “how often in the past month did you find that you couldn’t do all the things you had to do?”

Their neurocognitive abilities were then assessed using tests that measured attention and the ability to suppress automatic responses to visual stimuli; cognitive flexibility, or the ability to switch between tasks; picture sequence memory, which involves memorizing an increasingly long series of objects; working memory and processing speed.

The researchers compared these findings with participants’ responses on various measures of feelings of anxiety, attention problems, and aggression, among other behavioral and emotional problems.

The analysis found that low to moderate levels of stress were psychologically beneficial, potentially acting as a kind of inoculation against the development of mental health symptoms.

“Most of us have adverse experiences that make us stronger,” Oshri said. “There are specific experiences that can help you develop or develop skills that will prepare you for the future.”

But the ability to endure stress and adversity varies greatly from person to person.

Things like age, genetic predispositions, and having a support community to turn to when times are tough all play a role in how well people cope. While a little stress can be good for cognition, Oshri warns that prolonged levels of high stress can be incredibly damaging, both physically and mentally.

“At a certain point, stress becomes toxic,” he said. “Chronic stress, like stress caused by living in extreme poverty or abuse, can have very bad health and psychological consequences. It affects everything from the immune system to emotional regulation and brain function. Not all stress is good stress. “

The study was co-authored by Zehua Cui and Cory Carvalho of the University of Georgia’s Department of Human Development and Family Sciences and Sihong Liu of Stanford University.

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Materials is provided University of Georgia. Original written by Lee Beeson. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.

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