Is all stress bad stress? Is all stress good stress? Well, the answer to both of those questions is no. Multiple considerations need to be taken into account when assessing whether a specific stressor is beneficial or detrimental, such as its nature and amount. Statements along the lines of, “X and Y places a lot of stress on your body, so it is bad,” does not provide enough information to draw a reasonable conclusion. So, what is stress, and what is its purpose?
Stress describes the body’s response to a stressor. A stressor can come in the form of a physical threat. Oftentimes, though, our stressors present themselves to us as challenges, either physical or mental. Many refer to this as being outside one’s comfort zone. A healthy dose of stress is good for us and is in fact necessary for personal growth. By means of physical stress, our body adapts and becomes stronger and more conditioned. By means of mental stress, we learn new skills and our mind becomes resilient. Stress can even clue us in when something is wrong and a change needs to be made.
However, the nature of the stressor needs to be taken into consideration. Will the resulting adaptation be a net positive or a net negative? Physical training can result in a positive physical adaptation, whereas high consumption of alcohol or lack of sleep will stress the body with no benefit. Likewise, the mental stress of overcoming a challenge presents a great opportunity for growth, whereas an overly demanding work environment or unhealthy relationship can completely drain all of your mental faculties without giving anything in return.
Even positive stressors need to be given in appropriate increments and balanced with proper recovery. Training seven days per week while sleeping four hours per night, missing your protein goal, and not drinking enough water is a recipe for regression. In short, work hard and recover harder!