“All of us at anxietycentre.com have experienced debilitating anxiety. But we’ve also overcome it and returned to normal and lasting health. Because we know the hardship anxiety unwellness can cause, we are committed to helping others, with over 30 years of service.” - Jim Folk, President, anxietycentre.com

Are there good and bad stress hormones? If so, how does a person activate just the good stress hormones?

Marilyn Folk BScN medical reviewer
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Updated: May 11, 2019

Stress hormones – adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine (and others) – are neither good or bad. They are nothing more than the body’s response to excitement or the perception of danger.

What makes their effects beneficial or detrimental seems to be the length of time stress hormones are coursing through the body, according to traditional research.

The Good
In addition to heightening senses, improving brain function, increasing alertness, and a host of other benefits, research has found that short bursts of stress hormones are actually good for the body. Short bursts of stress hormones also supercharge the immune system, improve heart function, speed up the body’s metabolism, makes neurons work at peak capacity, speed up the body’s repair work, and many more. So normal stress is healthy for the mind and body.

The Bad
Stress becomes a negative, however, when stress hormones bombard the body for an extended period of time. Research has found that stress hormones become a liability when flowing for periods of longer than 24 hours. It’s the sustained stress that turns stress hormones into a detriment, according to traditional research.

Maybe Not
There is recent research, however, that suggests it’s not the stress hormones themselves that have a negative effect on the body, but a person’s attitude about stress.

In her book, The Upside of Stress, author Dr. Kelly McGonigal, a Stanford University lecturer, concludes that it’s the combination of sustained stress AND viewing stress as being harmful that turns normal stress into unhealthy stress, not the stress hormones themselves.

“… when people think of stress in a more positive way, it actually changes their experience of stress and seems to reduce the harmful effects,” said McGonigal in an interview with Isabel Teotonia, Living reporter for TheStar.com.

Dr. McGonigal says that it’s our attitude about stress that makes all the difference, not the stress itself.

What We Know
No matter whether we know that stress is good or harmful, we do know that sustained stress can cause the body to become hyperstimulated. We know that hyperstimulation can cause the body to exhibit a wide range of symptoms. We also know that once the body becomes hyperstimulated and symptomatic, it can take a very long time to eliminate hyperstimulation and its symptoms.

So no matter whether stress hormones are good or bad, sustained stress does cause physiological consequences that we have to work at reversing. The good news is we can reverse it all by doing the right work.

Being positive, passively working at eliminating the body’s hyperstimulated state, identifying and addressing the underlying factors associated with problematic anxiety and the stress they cause, and giving the body ample time will resolve all of the negative effects of hyperstimulation. If you are dealing with anxiety symptoms, eliminating the body’s overly stressed state will eliminate anxiety symptoms.

We also know having a positive attitude is beneficial to not only the recovery process but life itself.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources:

Return to our Anxiety Frequent Questions page.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and coaching/counseling/therapy for problematic anxiety and its sensations and symptoms.