Study says some stress may be beneficial to brain

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Stress is a universal human experience that almost everyone deals with from time to time, which is often viewed as negative. However, new study published in the journal Emotion found that not only do some people report feeling no stress at all, but that there may be downsides to not experiencing stress.

The researchers used data from 2,711 participants for the study. Prior to the start of the study, the participants completed a short cognition test. Then, the participants were interviewed each night for eight consecutive nights, and answered questions about their mood, chronic conditions they may have, their physical symptoms, such as headaches, coughs, or sore throats, and what they did during that day.

The participants also reported the number of stressors, like disagreements with friends and family or a problem at work, and the number of positive experiences, such as sharing a laugh with someone at home or work, they had experienced in the previous 24 hours.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that there did appear to be benefits for those who reported no stressors throughout the study, about 10 percent of the participants. These participants were less likely to have chronic health conditions and experience better moods throughout the day.

However, those who reported no stressors also performed lower on the cognition test, with the difference equaling more than eight years of aging. Additionally, they were also less likely to report giving or receiving emotional support, as well as less likely to experience positive things happening throughout the day.

Several previous studies have linked stress with a greater risk for many negative outcomes, like chronic illness or worse emotional wellbeing. The researchers that while it may make sense to believe that the less stress someone experiences the healthier that they will be, little research has explored that assumption.

The findings, the authors said, suggest that it may not be as important to avoid stress as it is to change how you respond to stress. Additionally, small, daily stressors could potentially benefit the brain, despite being an inconvenience.

"I think there's an assumption that negative events and positive events are these polar opposites, but in reality, they're correlated," said David Almeida, PhD, lead author of the study and professor of human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University, in a statement. "But really, I think experiencing small daily stressors like having an argument with somebody or having your computer break down or maybe being stuck in traffic, I think they might be a marker for someone who has a busy and maybe full life. Having some stress is just an indicator that you are engaged in life.”