Feeling Stressed Out? Research Says There May Be an Upside

Being stressed out isn't necessarily the worst thing in the world - your body uses stress in good ways, too.


By Elizabeth Millard |

  • According to new research in the journal Stress & Health, experiencing stress could increase your ability to give and receive emotional support.
  • This research aims to help people see stress not as a monster to be conquered, but instead a nudge toward better connections with friends and family.
  • It’s still worth noting that chronic stress can lead to longterm health issues. Exercise—particularly forms that get you outside, like cycling—can help relieve ongoing stress.

Stressed out? You’re feeling overwhelmed and frazzled, maybe from work deadlines or a jam-packed training schedule. But every cloud has a silver lining: That stress might make you a better source of support to those around you.

You might be thinking, what? But science backs it up—recent research published in the journal Stress & Health suggests that while being stressed out certainly has its downsides, it could actually increase the support you give to others, as well as how open you are to receiving support yourself.

READ MORE 9 Ways You Can Avoid Burnout

To determine the emotional effects of stress, researchers interviewed 1,622 people—men and women ranging in age from 33 to 84—about whether they’d experienced stressors like arguments or emotionally taxing events at work or home, and if they offered or received emotional support throughout the day. Their answers were collected every night for eight nights.

On average, those who’d experienced a stressor were more than twice as likely to have also given or received emotional support that day. Also, they were 26 percent more likely to offer support the next day, even if they didn’t experience a stressor on that day.

Stressors don’t have to distance you from others—in fact, they can create stronger connections.

Women tended to engage in more giving and receiving of emotional support than men on the day the stressor occurred, but both men and women were more likely to provide support the next day. Age appeared not to be a factor, except that older adults had fewer stress-filled days (more good news, it seems).

The finding surprised the researchers, according to study co-author David Almeida, Ph.D., professor of human development and family studies at Penn State. He said that these results highlight a benefit of stress, and shows that stressors don’t have to distance you from others—in fact, they can create stronger connections.

Hopping on your bike or going for a walk in the park can reduce your stress levels,

“Stress predicts how much you’ll give support on the day you’re feeling it, as well as the following day,” he told Bicycling, adding that this could provide a basis for future research that focuses on other ways that stress can be harnessed in a positive way.

It’s worth noting, though, that the longterm effects of being stressed out on your body can include health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Hopping on your bike or going for a walk in the park can reduce your stress levels to begin with. But this research aims to help not to see stress as a monster to be conquered, and instead think of it as a nudge toward better connections with friends and family, Almeida suggested.

“There may be thresholds of stress that are healthy,” he said.

READ MORE ON: embrace stress stress stressed out

Copyright © 2020 Rodale Inc.