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How to make stress work in your favor

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Published: 11 Mar 2013

Stress costs the American economy about $300 billion a year in medical bills and missed work, according to the World Health Organization. Headlines call stress an epidemic, and nearly every day we learn more about how it’s hurting us: It makes us eat too much, sleep too little, lash out, get sick, and falter at work and school. Curiously, however, new research suggests that all the attention to the risks of stress may actually be part of the problem… Stress was introduced as a medical term during the Great Depression, fittingly enough, by the Hungarian endocrinologist Hans Selye. Working at McGill University, Selye traced the links between stressors, the brain, and the glands that produce stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. He also cataloged the ills of chronic stress, including ulcers and a withered immune system. But Selye didn’t think all stress was bad. He contrasted negative distress with beneficial ­eustress (literally “good stress”). Eustress led to learning, growth, fulfillment, and even the thrill of victory. Distress caused anxiety, withdrawal, hopelessness, and depression.

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