It's important to note that stress is normal and does have its benefits. McKee and Seppälä both define "good stress" as a product of our human fight-or-flight response, "where our bodies prepare to fight off a potentially deadly attack or run away," as Seppälä writes.
Here are the physical responses that occur as a result of our brains communicating a threat to our nervous system, according to McKee:
- Our muscles become tense
- Our hearts beat faster take consume more oxygen and nutrients
- Our bronchial airwaves expand
- Our pupils dilate to see more around us
- Our cognitive processing briefly enhances so we can think faster
"These responses are helpful when we're facing real dangers such as a physical attack or a natural disaster," McKee writes. But here's the catch: "Unfortunately, our brains don't do a very good job of distinguishing this type of serious danger from the kinds of pressures and threats we experience at work."
Seppälä notes that stress in small doses can help us achieve short-term goals, which may resonate with plenty of procrastinators.
But over time, "chronic stress" or feeling stressed all the time, "is the number one enemy of success," Seppälä adds.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list, effects of chronic stress, also known as long-term acute stress, include:
- Proneness to illness and chronic infections
- High blood pressure
- Heart problems
- Increased susceptibility to diabetes and cancer
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Muscular and skeletal problems
- Restlessness throughout the day and night
- Substance abuse
Chronic stress also has the ability to interfere with social well-being and spread to your co-workers, friends and family,
"Anxious emotions such as fear are physiologically contagious through pheromones, chemicals released in our sweat," Seppälä writes. "When someone emits 'fear pheromones,' the people who come into contact with that person show greater activation in brain areas corresponding to anxiety and fear (particularly the amygdala)."