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Good Stress vs. Bad Stress?
How to Lose Weight & Be Well With Good Stress Levels
© 2023 Health Realizations, Inc. Update


If there’s one feeling that most every adult has experienced, it has to be stress. About 40 percent of Americans say they deal with stress frequently, while 36 percent say they sometimes do, according to a Gallup poll.

This “thing” called stress has become a household term since shortly after Hans Selye, M.D., D.Sc., F.R.S., coined the term in 1936, and defined it as "the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change."

But while we all know what stress feels like, it can be difficult to pin down exactly what stress is. And that’s because stress can mean a virtually infinite number of things -- and as you might suspect not all of them are bad, not by a long shot.

As the American Institute for Stress points out:

“If you were to ask a dozen people to define stress, or explain what causes stress for them, or how stress affects them, you would likely get 12 different answers to each of these requests.

The reason for this is that there is no definition of stress that everyone agrees on, what is stressful for one person may be pleasurable or have little effect on others and we all react to stress differently.”

What is Bad Stress?

When you speak about stress, it is likely in terms of the bad stress, the type that eats away at you little by little (or by a lot) over time. This chronic stress is the worst variety, and has no redeeming qualities (unlike good acute stress, which may rev you up when you need the extra energy boost).

When your body becomes stressed, your sympathetic nervous system invokes the fight-or-flight stress response, which gets your body into a heightened state of readiness, preparing you to react.

This is not an inherently bad state for your body to be in, unless it happens too often, or over a prolonged period of time.

When stress becomes chronic, it can impair your immune system and has been linked to a host of major illesses, including heart disease, cancer, depression, autoimmune diseases and reproductive problems, along with more minor maladies like stomach upset, back pain, headaches and fatigue.

But, again, not all stress is harmful to your health. In fact, some stress is not only necessary for your survival but also can help you achieve success.

What is Good Stress?

It is not accurate to speak of stress in only negative terms, as, to a point, stress is actually good for you. It provides a burst of energy, a boost to your immune system and allows you to accomplish more.

As stated by the American Stress Institute and illustrated in their image above:

“Increased stress results in increased productivity -- up to a point, after which things go rapidly downhill. However, that point or peak differs for each of us, so you need to be sensitive to the early warning symptoms and signs that suggest a stress overload is starting to push you over the hump.

Such signals also differ for each of us and can be so subtle that they are often ignored until it is too late. Not infrequently, others are aware that you may be headed for trouble before you are.

Any definition of stress should therefore also include good stress, or what Selye called eustress. For example, winning a race or election can be just as stressful as losing, or more so. A passionate kiss and contemplating what might follow is stressful, but hardly the same as having a root canal procedure.”

Exercise is another example of good stress that, although taxing on your body, offers major health and emotional benefits in the long-term. Research has also begun to bear out the benefits of good types of stress, such as an emotional challenge that you overcome, starting a new job, planning a party, or completing a work assignment under a deadline. These benefits include:

  • Strengthening your immune system

  • Protecting against Alzheimer’s by keeping brain cells working at their peak

  • Improving heart function

  • Better recovery after surgery

  • Helping to prevent breast cancer by suppressing the production of estrogen

"Those powerful [stress] chemicals are there, first and foremost, to help you survive," Monika Fleshner, a neuroimmunophysiologist at the University of Boulder, Colorado tells MSNBC. "It’s only under the circumstances of chronic stress or extreme, severe stress that we suffer negative effects."

How to Keep Your Stress Positive

The key to harnessing stress for your own benefit and success lies in knowing when you’re nearing that tipping point of good to bad. This is often difficult, as once you reach the distress side, it can be hard to come back. This is where stress management techniques can be a lifesaver, but before you even get to that point, you can keep your stress on the “good” side by changing your perceptions.

“Many times we create our own stress because of faulty perceptions you can learn to correct … as Eleanor Roosevelt noted, nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent. While everyone can't agree on a definition of stress, all of our experimental and clinical research confirms that the sense of having little or no control is always distressful -- and that's what stress is all about,” the American Institute of Stress states.

The American Psychological Association explains further:

“Stress is to the human condition what tension is to the violin string: too little and the music is dull and raspy; too much and the music is shrill or the string snaps. Stress can be the kiss of death or the spice of life.

The issue, really, is how to manage it. Managed stress makes us productive and happy; mismanaged stress hurts and even kills us.”

So make a point to engage in the following good forms of stress to help bolster your physical and emotional strength, while keeping bad stress to a minimum:

1. Exercising to Increase Your Good Healthy Stress Levels and Reduce Your Bad Stress Is All Within Your Control

Exercising increases the levels of endorphins in your body, which stimulate your immune system, reduce stress and put you in a better modd.

Stretching should be integrated with your exercise routine, as it will provide you with increased energy levels and an even greater sense of well-being. There are countless stretches for your body, but it takes just 15 of them to stretch 95 percent of your body, according to stretching expert Jacques Gauthier.

2. Think and Live Positively

Studies show that people who have a bias toward noticing the negative – i.e. you view the glass as “half empty” instead of “half full” – are more susceptible to the negative effects of stress.

3. Learn to Focus

Working to accomplish a task at hand is an example of good stress, because once you finish the task you’ll be rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and pride. However, if you lose focus it’s easy to get distracted or overwhelmed.

In fact, if you attempt to spread your energy over too many tasks, it’s likely you won’t achieve true focus on any of them, and will likely give up before you’ve even begun. You’ll also become vulnerable to chronic stress. Finally, if you notice that you are often irritable or fatigued, or suffer from frequent colds, backaches, headaches and difficulty thinking clearly, these are signs that you may be dealing with too much stress. In this case, take the above steps to relax and ease your stress levels back into the healthy zone.


American Institute of Stress [The Human Function Curve Image]


American Psychological Association

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