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NEWSWEEK Cover: Stress Could Save Your Life (Or at Least it's Better for You Than You Think)
Date:2/15/2009

In Some Circumstances, Stress Can Be Good For You; 'Most People Do Their Best Under Mild To Moderate Stress' Says Psychologist

Stress Evolved To Help Us Survive; In The Short Term, It Can Energize Us

Take The Newsweek/WebMD Resiliency Quiz

NEW YORK, Feb. 15 /PRNewswire/ --- In the past several years, a lot of us have convinced ourselves that stress is unequivocally negative for everyone, all the time. But what's often overlooked is a common-sense counterpoint: in some circumstances, it can be good for you, too, reports Senior Writer Mary Carmichael in the February 23 Newsweek cover "Stress Could Save Your Life" (on newsstands Monday, February 16). As Spencer Rathus puts it in "Psychology: Concepts and Connections," "some stress is healthy and necessary to keep us alert and occupied." Yet that's not the theme that's been coming out of science for the past few years. "The public has gotten such a uniform message that stress is always harmful," says Janet DiPietro, a developmental psychologist at Johns Hopkins University. "And that's too bad, because most people do their best under mild to moderate stress."

(Photo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20090215/NYSU005 )

The stress response -- the body's hormonal reaction to danger, uncertainty, or change -- evolved to help us survive, and if we learn how to keep it from overrunning our lives, it still can, Carmichael reports in the cover story, which is an installment of Newsweek's continuing "Health for Life" series with Harvard Medical School. In the short term, it can energize us, "revving up our systems to handle what we have to handle," says Judith Orloff, a psychiatrist at UCLA. In the long term, stress can motivate us to do better at jobs we care about. A little of it can prepare us for a lot later on, making us more resilient. Even when it's extreme, stress may have positive effects -- which is why, in addition to posttraumatic stress disorder, some psychologists are starting to define a phenomenon called posttraumatic growth.

"There's really a biochemical and scientific bias that stress is bad, but anecdotally and clinically, it's quite evident that it can work for some people," says Orloff. "We need a new wave of research with a more balanced approach to how stress can serve us."

Carmichael reports that when she started asking researchers about "good stress," many of them said it essentially didn't exist. "We never tell people stress is good for them," one says. Another allowed that it might be, but only in small ways, in the short term, in rats. And those people who thrive on stress -- who become policemen or ER docs or air-traffic controllers because they like seeking out chaos and putting things back in order -- aren't they using stress to their advantage? No, the researchers say, those people are unhealthy. "This business of people saying they 'thrive on stress'? It's nuts," says Bruce Rabin, a distinguished psychoneuroimmunologist, pathologist and psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Some adults who seek out stress and believe they flourish under it may have been abused as children or permanently affected in the womb after exposure to high levels of adrenaline and cortisol, he tells Newsweek. Even if they weren't, he added, they're "trying to satisfy" some psychological need.

Also in the cover package, Dr. Anthony L. Komaroff, the Simcox-Clifford-Higby professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, looks at the link between stress and disease. He writes that while there is "much evidence" linking stress to the heart and blood vessels, the relationship isn't a simple one. "And despite some widely held and popular ideas, the link between stress and other diseases is even less clear," he writes. "Surely, experiencing stress may worsen the symptoms of almost any condition. But there is little evidence that stress is the exclusive or even the principle cause of any disease."

And on WebMD.com, take the Newsweek/WebMD resiliency quiz. An excerpt:

    1. Who tends to be least resilient?
           A. People who are insecure
           B. People who are happy
           C. People who are sad
           D. People who are self-focused 

Egocentric or self-focused people are more likely to take things personally. And the extent to which people take things personally affects their ability to be resilient. This is why people who survive natural disasters tend to recover more quickly than those who survive attacks directed at them personally. Answer: D

    2. Resilient people:
           A. Don't get stressed when times are bad
           B. Are trained in stress-management techniques
           C. Seek help from reliable people in times of stress
           D. Make concrete plans for handling traumatic events

It's not that resilient people don't feel stress, or that they're better trained to deal with it (although more resilient people may be more likely than others to learn stress management). Resilient people recognize that bad things happen to good people, so they aren't overwhelmed by stress when they experience setbacks. Resilient people have confidence in their ability to deal with bad situations. Answer: C

For the full quiz, visit webmd.com/Newsweek/resilience

(Read cover package at www.Newsweek.com)

http://www.newsweek.com/id/184154


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SOURCE Newsweek
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