You may have heard that a little bit of stress is actually good for you. In the just-right amount, that adrenaline rush can power you through a long day at work, boost your workouts and more.
But while it feels good to conquer the day, in the end, it just simply feels better — and is more beneficial to your health — to relax.
Some would argue that stress is our biggest health concern, given that it has been linked to so many other complications, from heart problems to dementia. CBS reported on a small study that examined the role of stress in seizures — and found that people are often misdiagnosed with epilepsy, when learning helpful relaxation and coping techniques may be a better solution.
You may still end up racing to meet deadlines at work today, or handling a stressful personal crisis — life goes on, no matter what kind of day it is. But relaxing whenever possible, and in whatever way works for you (whether it’s reading a book, taking a walk, meditating, running, you name it!) is healthier for you than you might think. Check out the health benefits of relaxation below.
1. Relaxing protects your heart
You’ve probably heard that stress can seriously up your risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks and other heart problems
While researchers aren’t sure exactly why, the research is unanimously in favor ofrelaxation for your heart’s sake. “There are studies to show that stress is comparable to other risk factors that we traditionally think of as major, like hypertension, poor diet and lack of exercise,” Kathi Heffner, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at the Rochester Center for Mind-Body Research at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, told Health.com.
Intense, sudden periods of stress or shock, like a breakup or even winning the lottery, can trigger such a rush of adrenaline that the heart can’t function properly, resulting in heart failure or heart attack-like symptoms. In the case of a breakup or death of a loved one, this has become known as broken heart syndrome.
2. Relaxing lowers your risk of catching a cold
3. Relaxing boosts your memory
4. Relaxing lowers your stroke risk
Flickr: Florin Gorgan
A 2007 University of Cambridge study found that people who coped the best with stressful life events had a 24 percent lower risk of stroke
. It may be partly due to the fact that people who handle stress well often are healthy in other ways, like exercising regularly and not smoking.
A 2011 study examined the specific effects of work-related stress, and found that among middle- and upper-class men, psychological stress caused about 10 percent of strokes.
5. Relaxing keeps you safe from depression
Studies have shown that chronic stress can kill brain cells, and even prevent the creation of new ones, in the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in a healthy response to stress, according to Time.com. In 2011, a study in mice illustrated these findings and began to explain one possible way antidepressants work. The mice exposed to a stressful situation didn’t want to eat, gave up during a swimming task much faster and exhibited “pleasurelessness” — similar to human depression symptoms like loss of appetite, sadness and hopelessness.
In humans, the prolonged presence of stress hormone cortisol can reduce levels of serotonin and dopamine, which are linked to depression.
Stress is also likely to exacerbate mood problems in people with a history of depression or bipolar disorder, and could trigger relapse.
6. Relaxing helps you make better decisions
It’s no surprise that when you’re under stress, you might not always be thinking so clearly. But a 2012 study found that stress seems to actually change how we weigh risks and rewards, and can cloud our judgment when we are faced with important decisions.
Counterintuitively, stressed-out people actually tend to focus on the positive, and may ignore the cons of the decision they’re about to make, one of the study’s authors, Mara Mather Ph.D., a professor of gerontology and psychology at the University of Southern California, said in a statement.
That may also help explain why alcoholics crave a drink more when they’re under pressure. “The compulsion to get that reward comes stronger and they’re less able to resist it,” Mather said.
7. Relaxing keeps you slim
8. Relaxing eases acne
It’s a vicious cycle: You’re stressed about that presentation at work, so you break out, and then you’re stressed about the breakout! Researchers aren’t exactly sure why, but stress seems to up the amount of oil produced by the skin
, clogging pores and causing acne, according to WebMD.
Flare-ups of other skin problems, like psoriasis, have also been linked to stress, and can be equally stressful themselves. But relaxing really helps: A 1998 study found that psoriasis plaques cleared up more quickly in people who regularly meditated.
9. Relaxing will keep you in the mood
One of the big reasons that women lose that lovin’ feeling is stress, but men aren’t immune either. In fact, Kinsey Institute researchers found that stress zaps the libido of around 30 percent of men
(although another 21 percent said it actually increased
their sex drive.). “Men are more likely to see sex as a stress reliever, whereas for many busy women, their husband’s desire is just another demand on their time and energy,” Alice Domar, Ph.D., director of the Mind/Body Center for Women’s Health at Boston IVF told Ladies Home Journal.
10. Relaxing could slow breast cancer