Some types of stress can be good for brain function

Summary: Low to moderate stress can help build resilience and reduce the risk of developing serious mental health disorders, including depression and antisocial behavior, new research reports.

A source: University of Georgia

It may seem like a lot to hang over your head, but this stressful period at work may actually be good for your brain, according to new research from the University of Georgia’s Institute for Youth Development.

Published Psychiatry Research, research has found that low to moderate levels of stress can help people develop resilience and reduce the risk of mental health disorders such as depression and antisocial behavior. Low to moderate stress can also help people cope with future stressful encounters.

“If you’re in a stressful environment, you may develop coping mechanisms that allow you to be a more efficient and effective worker and organize yourself in ways that help you perform,” said Assaf Oshri, lead author of the study and an associate professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Stress from studying for an exam, preparing for a big meeting at work, or taking extra time to close a deal can lead to personal growth. For example, rejection by a publisher may cause a writer to reconsider his style. And being fired can make someone reassess their strengths and whether they should stay in their field or branch out into something new.

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

“It’s like when you do something really hard and your skin gets a little irritated,” continued Oshry, who directs the UGA Institute for Youth Development. “You make your skin adapt to the pressure you’re applying to it. But if you overdo it, you’ll cut your skin.”

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

The researchers relied on data from the National Institutes of Health-funded Human Connectome Project, which aims to understand how the human brain works.

For this study, researchers analyzed project data from more than 1,200 young adults who reported their stress levels using a questionnaire commonly used in research to determine how people find their lives uncontrollable and stressful.

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 many times in the past month have you found yourself unable to keep up with all the things you need to do?”

Their neurocognitive abilities were 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 remembering an increasingly long series of objects; working memory and processing speed.

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

The analysis suggests that low to moderate levels of stress are psychologically beneficial and may act as a form of vaccination against the development of mental health symptoms. Image is in the public domain

The analysis suggests that low to moderate levels of stress are psychologically beneficial and may act as a form of vaccination against the development of mental health symptoms.

“Most of us have bad 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 cope with stress and adversity varies from person to person.

Things like age, genetic predisposition, and the presence of a support community in times of need play a role in how well people deal with adversity. While a little stress can be good for cognition, Oshry warns that high stress levels can be incredibly damaging, both physically and mentally.

“At a certain point, stress becomes toxic,” he said. “Chronic stress can have the same health and psychological consequences as stress from living in poverty or exposure to violence. It affects everything from your immune system to emotional regulation to brain function. Not all stress is good stress.”

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

About this stress research news

Author: Cole Soseby
A source: University of Georgia
The connection: Cole Soseby – University of Georgia
Photo: Image is in the public domain

Original research: Closed access.
“Is Perceived Stress Associated with Improved Cognitive Performance and Reduced Risk of Psychopathology? Testing the Hormesis Hypothesis” Assaf Oshri et al. Psychiatry Research


Is perceived stress associated with increased cognitive functioning and decreased risk of psychopathology? Testing the hormesis hypothesis

Extensive research documents the impact of psychosocial stress on a person’s lifetime risk of developing psychiatric symptoms. Furthermore, there is evidence that cognitive functioning mediates this link. However, a growing body of research suggests that limited stress may have cognitive benefits that contribute to resilience.

It is hypothesized that low to moderate levels of stress are associated with more adaptive outcomes. hormesis. Using a sample of young adults from the Human Connectome Project (Do not = 1206, 54.4% women, Man act = 28.84), this study aimed to test the hormetic effect between low and moderate perceived stress and psychopathological symptoms (internalizing and externalizing symptoms), as well as to cross-examine the mediating role of cognitive function in this effect.

Results indicated cognitive functioning as a mediating mechanism underlying the curvilinear association between perceived stress and externalizing, but not internalizing, behavior.

This study provides preliminary support for the benefits of limited stress on the human resilience process.

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