Low levels of stress may be good for the brain, study finds

Experts say moderate stress levels may reduce mental health concerns

While many consumers are actively working to lower their stress levels, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Georgia explored the benefits of small amounts of stress. According to their findings, enduring low to moderate stress levels may help improve consumers’ resilience and lower their risk for certain mental health conditions. 

“If you’re in an environment where you have some level of stress, you may develop coping mechanisms that will allow you to become a more efficient and effective worker and organize yourself in a way that will help you perform,” said researcher Assaf Oshri. 

Maintaining low stress levels

The researchers analyzed data from over 1,200 young adults enrolled in the Human Connectome Project. They answered questions about their typical stress levels, mental health, and emotions, and they also completed assessments that measured their neurocognitive abilities. 

The researchers learned that participants who were best able to handle low to moderate levels of stress were found to be more resilient and have fewer mental health concerns. While high levels of stress can become detrimental to both physical and mental health, building tolerance to stressful situations can be beneficial to the brain and mental health. 

“It’s like when you keep doing something hard and get a little callus on your continued,” Oshri said. “You trigger your skin to adapt to this pressure you are applying to it. But, if you do too much, you’re going to cut your skin.” 

The researchers gave several examples of some scenarios that may be considered “good” stress: having a strict deadline at work, studying for a big exam, or working late to close a big deal. These events can strengthen consumers’ resilience and make future stressful events easier to endure. From a mental health standpoint, making it through stressful situations can lower the risk of depression and antisocial behaviors. 

While the team isn’t encouraging consumers to seek out stress or to maintain unhealthy stress levels, the study findings do highlight some of the cognitive and mental health benefits associated with being able to tolerate stressful situations. 

“At a certain point, stress becomes toxic,” said Oshri. “Chronic stress, like the stress that comes from living in abject poverty or being abused, can have very bad health and psychological consequences. It affects everything from your immune system, to emotional regulation, to brain functioning. Not all stress is good stress.” 

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