Good Stress & Bad Stress – Understanding the Difference to Perform Better

The world is complex. Everything is speeding up. Stress is an epidemic. We all know the symptoms: fatigue, anxiety, weight gain, poor sleep, digestive issues, and on and on.

What if you could get some distance from the stressors and even reap some benefits? It’s time to understand stress instead of being subjected to it. Use it to become more resilient. Don’t be a victim.

My favorite stress hacks
  • The cold shower. Yep. First thing in the morning. Focus on the face and upper torso, where you have the most cold receptors. Do it for three mornings in a row. You will hate me at first, but then you will notice a real sense of well-being. The cold signals your mitochondria (the powerhouses of your cells) to strengthen up to deal with the cold, and you enjoy a boost of energy as a result. Do hot, then cold, several times for extra resilience.
  • Reduce decision fatigue. Every decision you make throughout the day takes energy, depletes your willpower, and adds to the stress load. Simplify your life, plan, and delegate so you have fewer choices to make.

All is a Question of Dose

Exercise is a stressor. Enough is enough—and too much is really too much. The latter can lead to insomnia, injury, anxiety, irritability, joint pain, osteoporosis, and even visceral fat, due to overloading cortisol. Balance and recovery are key. Too little stress is just as unhealthy and toxic to your body as too much stress. So we all need to regularly take stock of the stressors in our life and:

  • Minimize unnecessary stress
  • Take advantage of useful stress
  • Plan recovery time to optimize the effects

The brain’s first order of business is to ensure survival—stress is a survival mechanism. Let’s be grateful for it. Whenever we encounter stressors, whether they are physical or psychological, the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure located near the hippocampus, signals the body: “There is a danger. I need all of my physical abilities.” The amygdala takes over control of breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, etc..

First, you get a shot of adrenaline, forcing the body to go into fight-or-flight mode. Heart rate and blood pressure increase. Then, cortisol (the stress hormone) increases the level of glucose in the blood to produce energy for your response. The problem is that the amygdala does not differentiate sources of stress. You have the same response whether you’re pursued by a lion or stuck in traffic. Regardless of the situation, the adrenal glands will release cortisol.

Different Reactions to Stress

There are three reactions to stress, and each of us tends, in general, to favor one of them.

  • Either you take off running. That is to say, the blood goes straight to your legs so you can get out of there.
  • Or you fight. The blood goes to your arms and hands to throw some punches, and to your face so you look mean.
  • Or you freeze. Your heart slows down, your energy drops. You play dead.

In any case, the cortex—the rational part of the brain—is completely offline. The amygdala says, “There is no sense analyzing the situation. Do what I tell you to do. Nothing more.” This is actually a good thing. Imagine the scene: a lion is on your heels, while the cortex is calculating the distance to the tree and the percentage of success reaching it compared to choosing to jump into the lake … Your brain’s executive committee would not even get through the agenda before you’d be lion lunch.

The system works well if a lion is chasing you. Not so much when the computer doesn’t work the way you want it to, and your anxiety rises, your hands shake and you want to take off running.

What about standing in front of your boss or a colleague, and your jaw tenses and voice rises, as you prepare to fight? Or, you have so much work that you all of the sudden feel so tired, unable to continue and you break down in tears.

In any case, you cannot make any rational decisions … it is at that moment that you’re mean to your spouse, or you send that email you never should have sent. It is also in these moments that you stomach aches because the amygdala knows that you don’t need to digest food if you want to survive the lion. The good news; there’s an app for that. In fact, there are dozens. In this guide, we’ve handpicked some of the best meditation apps for review and broken them down so you can get a better look.

Good Stress, Bad Stress

And yet, what of the principle that what does not kill you makes you stronger? In other words, where is the stress that reinforces us? According to Wikipedia, the word “hormesis” comes from ancient Greek hormáein “to set in motion, impel, urge on.” It refers to the generally favorable response the body has to low-dose exposures of toxins or other stress-generating agents or phenomena (peak temperatures, for example). It’s a key process to staying in shape and it can increase resistance to a variety of stressors, not just the ones you have been exposed to. This is an essential point: temporary exposure to one type of stressor can result in adaptations that make you more resistant to other types of stressors.

Take the case of physical activity. Exercise is a stressor, and yet it strengthens us. There are others, such as exposure to hot (sauna) and cold (cold shower), for example.


Anne Trager
Anne Trager
Embrace the future you choose. Rediscover your spontaneity, your focus, and your life balance. Reboot. Rebalance. Reconnect. Be… more. These are the values I believe in and share with others. I’m a well-being junkie—delicious healthy seasonal food, dream-filled sleep, martial arts, tai chi, qi gong, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and more. I’m so obsessed with the whole human, each part of an individual ecosystem, that I trained in cutting-edge techniques to optimize human potential and have turned them into a way of life. As a Certified Human Potential Coach, I provide premium life coaching combined with front-line insights from positive psychology, nutrition, biohacking, and neuroscience. I apply the MIME principle—maximum impact, minimum effort—certain that life is meant to be lived fully. Let’s be clear: I have an unbridled aspiration to do just that. I explore both science and traditional knowledge, seeking what nourishes our capacity to create a positive and optimistic future.

CHECK FOR TICKETS / JOIN OUR WAITING LIST! It's not a virtual event. It's not a conference. It's not a seminar, a meeting, or a symposium. It's not about attracting a big crowd. It's not about making a profit, but rather about making a real difference. LEARN MORE HERE



  1. Stress comes from “within” not from “without”, it may well be an external “event” that sparks the stress, but it is our perception of the event that triggers our stress reaction. If we perceive a danger the amygdala takes over, if we do not perceive danger the cortex stays in control.

    In order to remain “in control” In stressful situations we need to train ourselves to put an appropriate amount of distance between the external event and the internal reaction in order to be able to assess the situation and, maybe, question our perception – maybe the lion is lame or old and not the danger I first perceived it to be.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Ken and Joanne. I agree. There is a physiological reaction that we call stress, and then there is how you self-manage your reactions and your emotions. For the latter, you need to have enough energy and practice. That said, stress really is a defense mechanism, so there are times it is useful.

  3. I think managing stress is a misconception. It is really about managing yourself and your emotions. Oh yes, you can sometimes manage the source of your stress, but more often than not that is a temporary fix at best. Trying to manage stress is managing the symptom, not the core problem. Another example of a band-aid on a broken bone.