AUG 17, 2022 8:00 AM PDT

Stress & Cognitive Function: Friend or Foe?

WRITTEN BY: Joshua Aeh

Stress is inevitable, at times overwhelming, and when in the thick of it, it can feel insurmountable. However, sometimes, believe it or not, it can be beneficial. A new study has discovered that low to moderate stress levels can help establish resilience, allowing us to handle future stressful situations. It can also lower one's risk of developing mental health disorders like depression or antisocial behaviors.

Stress can happen anywhere at any time and in any environment. Still, that endured stress may result in better coping mechanisms for future challenges creating a more effective, efficient, and organized approach allowing one to be better prepared and better for it.

Personal growth is often the result of some stress, whether from the long hours spent studying for a test or the preparation that goes into planning an important meeting. Even being fired could lead one to re-evaluate their career choice, perhaps even lead them to something closer to their strengths and liking.

But there is a fine line when it comes to stress. Working hard to achieve and improve is good but taking on or doing too much could be damaging.

In this study, the research team took data from the Human Connectome Project, a project sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to expand our understanding of the human mind. The researchers collected data on over 1,200 young adults and analyzed their responses to a questionnaire regarding their perceived stress levels.

The researchers also assessed the participant's neurocognitive abilities with tests that considered attention to visual stimuli and their ability to suppress their automatic response to said stimuli; cognitive flexibility; picture sequence memory; processing and working memory.

The researchers then took the results and compared them to the participant's responses regarding emotional and behavioral problems, anxious feelings, aggression, and problems with attention.

They discovered that low to moderate stress levels could be beneficial psychologically, a preventative measure that can protect us from developing symptoms related to mental health.

It's no surprise that adversity makes us stronger. And it's in those trying times that we become better aware of our strengths and weaknesses. It's experiences like these that, though challenging in the moment, will allow us to evolve and better prepare us for the future.

But everyone is different and in a different situation, and people's tolerance for stress varies from person to person. Factors affecting our ability to handle stress include age, genetic predisposition, and personal support system. And though low to moderate levels of stress can benefit our mental health, too much stress too often can be bad for our mental and physical health.

Too much stress is toxic. Chronic stress can lead to poor health and psychological problems affecting everything from brain functioning to an inability to regulate emotions to weakening our immune system.

Not all stress is good stress. But, as Walt Disney once said, "All the adversity I've had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me. You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you."

Sources: ScienceDaily, ScienceDirect, UGA

About the Author
BS in Exercise Science
Currently a Tissue Recovery Technician with a background in Exercise Science working on the side as a Writer with an interest in all things science.
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