Remember when the medical community starting letting us know that there were two kinds of cholesterol — good (HDL) and bad (LDL)? Medical experts believe that although HDL is itself a cholesterol, it carries the bad cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it’s passed from the body.

In my opinion, you can categorize stress in the same way. There is the kind of stress you experience when things keep going wrong or the same issues keep cropping up that you have to fix. This is like being a hamster on a wheel. There’s not payoff for the stress if the same issue keeps coming up.

Good stress

But what is good stress? Jane Weaver, health editor for msnbc, says:

Moderate amounts of stress — the kind of short-term buzz we get from a sudden burst of hormones — can help people perform tasks more efficiently and can improve memory. Good stress is the type of emotional challenge where a person feels in control and provides some sense of accomplishment. It can improve heart function and make the body resistant to infection, experts say. Far from being something we need to eliminate from our lives, good stress stimulates us.

In fact, some people can become addicted to that short-term buzz (thus the term “adrenaline junkie”), but that’s a whole other blog.

I like a certain amount of stress at work, particularly in the form of deadlines. Without it, I feel like an EEG of my brain at work would reveal a flat line. I’m the type of person whose mind tends to wander if not jolted every now and then. If there is a payoff, or feeling of achievement, after a period of stress for me, that is rewarding and feels pretty darn good.

Ms. Weaver points out some other believed benefits of stress:

  • Short-term boosts of it may strengthen the immune system and protect against some diseases of aging like Alzheimer’s.
  • People who experience moderate levels of stress before surgery have a better recovery than those with high or low levels.
  • A recent study suggested that stress could help prevent breast cancer because it suppresses the production of estrogen.
  • And earlier this year, research out of Johns Hopkins concludes that mild stress in a pregnant woman “may be a necessary condition for optimal development” in a child.

You also have to keep in mind how you handle stress individually. Some people are so low-key that stress doesn’t even register, while others can feel completely stressed out over the smallest thing. It helps, though, to know how to distinguish between good and bad forms of stress.