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Defining Stress: The Good, The Bad, The Unhealthy

Can stress be a good thing? For most us, the word itself evokes fear and concern. Historically, stress has been linked to illness and even death. Yet, at its core, it serves an important purpose.

Dr. Duane DiFranco, senior medical director, Health Care Value at Blue Care Network, views stress as a complicated but necessary part of life.

“Stress is a very normal reaction. It’s something… we were given to help us out, and that strikes people as being very strange. When we think of stress, we think stress equals bad. Stress equals, ‘I must get less of it…’ But in the right doses, for the right reasons, and at the right times, stress can actually be something that’s sort of good for us,” he said.

The key is to use stress as motivator. Listen as Dr. DiFranco explains how this negative response can spark a positive outcome on the latest episode of the A Healthier Michigan Podcast, hosted by Chuck Gaidica.

Stress is a signal that warns you of sudden or imminent danger. When it comes to life or death situations, it is crucial to our survival. But stress shouldn’t be a chronic condition. It’s meant to be brief and reactionary. When it becomes an ongoing issue, your physical and mental health take a hit.

“Stress becomes very problematic when it’s exaggerated. When we start making mountains out of molehills,” DiFranco said. “Sometimes we overwork ourselves and create unnecessary conflict. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum.”

Stress consists of four components, that together, have a potent effect:

  • Affective deals with feelings. Are you angry, hurt, or irritable?
  • Cognitive is rooted in your thoughts (i.e. negative self-talk).
  • Behavioral has to do with your actions. Do you get enough sleep? Are you consuming a healthy diet?
  • Physiologic is bodily changes like high blood pressure, tense muscles, and rapid heartbeat.

According to DiFranco, the cognitive component is the most harmful. You are what you think and vicious thoughts feed stress. If you’re inundated with negative ideas, they’ll eventually appear in a physical form. Calming your mind is one of the best ways to protect your body and preserve your health.

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Photo credit: Bandita

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