Overworked and stressed out? Look on the bright side – some stress is good for you.
While chronic stress can increase the risk of heart attack and compromise the immune system, researchers have found that short-lived stress primes the brain for improved performance – most notably boosting memory.
In studies on rats, the researchers found that significant, but brief stressful events caused stem cells in the brains of rats to turn into new nerve cells that, when mature two weeks later, improved their mental performance.
‘You always think about stress as a really bad thing, but it’s not,’ said Daniela Kaufer, associate professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley.
‘Some amounts of stress are good to push you just to the level of optimal alertness, behavioral and cognitive performance.
‘I think intermittent stressful events are probably what keeps the brain more alert, and you perform better when you are alert,’ she said.
Much research has demonstrated that chronic stress elevates levels of stress hormones, which suppresses the production of new neurons in the hippocampus, impairing memory.
It’s also known that chronically elevated levels of stress hormones increasing the risk of obesity, heart disease and depression.
But less is known about the effects of acute stress, Dr Kaufer said, and studies have been conflicting.