Can stress be healthy?

Stress doesn't just motivate us to get things done. Short bouts of it may actually boost the immune system and protect against one type of cancer, according to researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine, who were able to show the effects using stressed out laboratory mice.

Chronic, relentless stress can tax the immune system, increasing your chance of getting sick. But occasional angst may enhance anti-tumor activity, according to the study, published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

"Evolutionarily, it makes sense," said study author Firdaus Dhabhar, a member of Stanford's Cancer Center. "In nature, stress and immune activity are typically coupled. It's like a lion chasing and wounding a gazelle. Nature taps into this to give a boost to the in the face of danger."

In the Stone Age, life was arguably more stressful, said Dr. William Meller, who specializes in evolutionary medicine and was not involved with the Stanford study.

"Every day was a struggle for food, safety, shelter, fighting off disease and predators," said Meller, who was feeling admittedly cranky when I contacted him. "They didn't relieve this by meditating. They sharpened their knives, hunted for food and built shelters. One of the reasons we think we have so much stress today is because people spend so much time doing useless things to 'alleviate' it rather than getting things done."

Meller concedes that we all have different abilities to handle stress. Some of us live with huge responsibilities and workloads while others get stressed by getting out of bed in the morning.

But instead of adding another task to your list, such as yoga or exercise, you can reduce your stress by getting your work done, he said. "If you have a writing assignment it doesn't do you a bit of good to go to a yoga class. You sit down and do the writing and the 'stress' miraculously goes away," he said.

I wouldn't call or meditation "useless." Both help me sleep and can improve my focus at work -- which helps me write. There's research showing that exercise can increase concentration, which can also help you get your work done. And sometimes the best time to exercise is when you have the least time.

"The key is not to let the response linger," said Stanford's Dhabhar. "As long as you can return to a normal resting state within a few hours of a stressful event, you'll probably be fine," he said.
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Short-term stress enhances anti-tumor activity in mice, study shows

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Sep 26, 2009
"In the Stone Age, life was arguably more stressful, said Dr. William Meller, who specializes in evolutionary medicine and was not involved with the Stanford study."

yes, and the life span was terribly short. And not much intellectual advancement. That is probably there are no big insights in the army, stress inhibits learning, creativity.

Though many philosophers saw in stress a source of brilliance, like Nietzsche's "what does not kill you, makes you stronger". Though Nietzsche lived a rather short life, he died of 55 years old.

Probably Albert Hoffman, the LSD discoverer, would disagree with the vital role of stress in life. And he lived up to 102!

Wonder what stress does in neurotic individuals (like most people). It seems that regular life produces a lot of stress in neurotic individuals. I suspect that when people say that they have ADHD, it sounds more than acute neurosis to me, they hyper react to minor things, they can't get calm, they can't focus.

Sep 26, 2009
I'm glad I read this, and hopefully this is true. I stress myself so much in school with homework, leadership, test, scholarship and I crack myself up any time things go wrong. Hope I'll be able to manage my time successfully to release my stress.

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