Are There Good And Bad Stress Hormones?

Written by Jim Folk
Last updated March 27, 2021

Question

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


Answer

Stress hormones – adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine (and others) – are neither good or bad. They are merely the body’s response to stress, excitement, or the perception of danger.

What makes their effects beneficial or detrimental seems to be the amount and length of time they 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 good for the body.

Short bursts of stress hormones also supercharge the immune system, improve heart function, speed up the body’s metabolism, make neurons work at peak capacity, speed up the body’s repair work, and many more. Normal stress is healthy for the mind and body.

Many people go to great lengths to experience the "adrenaline rush" and "pumped up" feelings caused by surges of stress hormones.

For more information about the many changes caused by stress hormones, visit our "Stress Response" article.

The Bad

Stress becomes a negative, however, when stress hormones bombard the body for an extended period. Research has found that stress hormones become a liability when flowing for periods of longer than 24 hours. It’s chronic 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 chronic 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 chronic stress can cause the body to become hyperstimulated.

We know that hyperstimulation can cause a wide range of symptoms. We also know that once the body becomes hyperstimulated and symptomatic, it can take a very long time to recover and to the point where symptoms subside.

No matter whether stress hormones are good or bad, chronic 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, reducing stress, working at eliminating hyperstimulation, identifying and successfully addressing the underlying factors that drive problematic anxiety, and giving the body ample time to recover will resolve all of the negative effects of hyperstimulation.

Remember, anxiety symptoms are symptoms of stress. They are called anxiety symptoms because anxiety is the main source of the stress that causes the body to become stressed and symptomatic.

Visit our “Anxiety Symptoms” or “Stress Response” articles for more information about the cause of anxiety symptoms.

If you have chronic anxiety symptoms, eliminating hyperstimulation will eliminate its chronic symptoms.

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

If you are having difficulty eliminating hyperstimulation or containing worry, we recommend connecting with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists. Working with an experienced therapist is the most effective way to overcome anxiety disorder, its symptoms, and what can seem like unmanageable worry and anxiety.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our Anxiety Frequently Asked Questions page.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including Are There Good And Bad Stress Hormones?