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Stress Unveiled: The Unexpected Hero in Your Mental Wellness Journey – Defying Conventional Self-Care Wisdom

Stress is often seen as the enemy of mental wellness. We are told to avoid stress, manage stress, or cope with stress. But what if stress is not always bad for us? What if stress can actually be a powerful ally in our mental wellness journey? In this blog post, we will explore the surprising benefits of stress, how to harness stress for positive outcomes, and how to defy the conventional wisdom of self-care.

What is stress and why do we experience it?

Stress is a natural response to any challenge or demand that we face. It is the body’s way of preparing us to deal with the situation. When we encounter a stressor, such as a deadline, a conflict, or a threat, our brain activates the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers the release of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones increase our heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and muscle tension, and also affect our mood, cognition, and behavior. This is known as the fight-or-flight response.

The fight-or-flight response is an evolutionary adaptation that helped our ancestors survive in dangerous environments. It enabled them to react quickly and effectively to predators, enemies, or natural disasters. However, in the modern world, we face different kinds of stressors, such as work pressure, financial problems, relationship issues, or health concerns. These stressors are often chronic, complex, and unpredictable, and may not require a physical response. Yet, our brain still activates the same stress response, which can have negative effects on our physical and mental health if it persists for too long or too frequently.

How can stress be beneficial for us?

While chronic or excessive stress can be harmful, not all stress is bad. In fact, some stress can be beneficial for us, depending on how we perceive and respond to it. Here are some ways that stress can be a positive force in our lives:

  • Stress can enhance our performance. Moderate levels of stress can improve our focus, motivation, creativity, and learning. This is known as the Yerkes-Dodson law, which states that there is an optimal level of arousal for optimal performance. Too little stress can make us bored, complacent, or unmotivated, while too much stress can overwhelm, distract, or impair us. But the right amount of stress can challenge us to grow, adapt, and excel.
  • Stress can strengthen our resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity, cope with change, and overcome obstacles. Stress can help us develop resilience by exposing us to manageable difficulties, stimulating our coping skills, and enhancing our self-efficacy. This is known as stress inoculation, which is the process of building immunity to stress through repeated exposure to mild or moderate stressors. By experiencing and overcoming stress, we can learn to handle future challenges more effectively and confidently.
  • Stress can foster our connections. Social support is one of the most important factors for mental wellness. Stress can help us cultivate and maintain our social relationships by encouraging us to seek and offer help, empathy, and comfort. This is known as the tend-and-befriend response, which is an alternative to the fight-or-flight response, especially among women. When we face stress, our brain also releases oxytocin, a hormone that promotes bonding, trust, and cooperation. By reaching out to others and receiving support, we can reduce our stress levels and enhance our well-being.

How can we harness stress for positive outcomes?

The key to transforming stress from a foe to a friend is to change our mindset and behavior. Here are some strategies that can help us harness stress for positive outcomes:

  • Reframe stress as a challenge, not a threat. How we think about stress can influence how we feel and act. If we view stress as a threat, we may experience fear, anxiety, or helplessness, and try to avoid or escape the situation. But if we view stress as a challenge, we may experience excitement, curiosity, or confidence, and try to embrace or overcome the situation. Research has shown that adopting a challenge mindset can reduce the negative effects of stress and improve our performance and health.
  • Use stress as a signal, not a sentence. Stress can be a useful indicator that something is important, meaningful, or needs attention. Instead of ignoring or suppressing stress, we can use it as a signal to reflect on our values, goals, and priorities. We can ask ourselves: Why does this matter to me? What do I want to achieve? How can I align my actions with my purpose? By using stress as a signal, we can turn it into a source of motivation, direction, and inspiration.
  • Balance stress with recovery, not relaxation. Stress is not inherently bad, as long as we have adequate recovery. Recovery is the process of restoring our physical and mental resources after exertion. Recovery can involve active or passive activities, such as exercise, sleep, meditation, hobbies, or socializing. Recovery is different from relaxation, which is the state of being free from tension or anxiety. Relaxation can be a part of recovery, but it is not enough. We need to balance stress with recovery, not relaxation, to optimize our well-being and performance.


Q: What are some signs that I am experiencing too much stress?

A: Some common signs of excessive stress are:

  • Physical symptoms, such as headaches, muscle pain, fatigue, insomnia, or digestive problems
  • Emotional symptoms, such as irritability, anger, sadness, anxiety, or depression
  • Cognitive symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating, memory loss, confusion, or poor judgment
  • Behavioral symptoms, such as changes in appetite, sleep, or habits, isolation, procrastination, or substance abuse

If you notice any of these signs, you may want to seek professional help or consult your doctor.

Q: How can I measure my stress level?

A: There are various tools and methods that can help you measure your stress level, such as:

  • Self-assessment questionnaires, such as the Perceived Stress Scale, the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory, or the Stress Management Questionnaire
  • Biofeedback devices, such as heart rate monitors, blood pressure monitors, or skin conductance sensors
  • Stress tests, such as the Trier Social Stress Test, the Cold Pressor Test, or the Stroop Test

You can use these tools and methods to monitor your stress level over time and identify the sources and effects of your stress.

Q: How can I cope with stress in the moment?

A: There are various techniques and strategies that can help you cope with stress in the moment, such as:

  • Breathing exercises, such as deep breathing, abdominal breathing, or alternate nostril breathing
  • Relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, or autogenic training
  • Cognitive techniques, such as positive affirmations, rational thinking, or cognitive restructuring
  • Behavioral techniques, such as time management, problem-solving, or assertiveness

You can practice these techniques and strategies regularly and apply them when you face stressful situations.


Stress is not always the enemy of mental wellness. In fact, stress can be a powerful ally in our mental wellness journey, if we know how to perceive and respond to it. By reframing stress as a challenge, using stress as a signal, and balancing stress with recovery, we can harness stress for positive outcomes, such as enhanced performance, strengthened resilience, and fostered connections. We can also use various tools, methods, and techniques to measure, monitor, and cope with our stress level. By defying the conventional wisdom of self-care, we can unveil the unexpected hero in our mental wellness journey: stress.

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