Advertisement

When does stress cross the line from being helpful to harmful?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)
In a lot of ways, stress is good. It's the physiological mechanism that helps us function. It helps us make deadlines and run away from lions. Faced with a situation that requires action, we either decide to fight it (hustle to meet the deadline) or run away from it (aforementioned lion). It's the process that defines "fight or flight."

When those stressors reach extremely high levels, however, stress becomes dangerous. That's because of the effect of the stress hormone called cortisol. When you're constantly under stress, your cortisol is elevated too high. When those levels become exhausted, you end up with low levels. That's when stress is most damaging-when it exhausts your ability to increase your cortisol.
YOU: The Owner's Manual, Updated and Expanded Edition: An Insider's Guide to the Body that Will Make You Healthier and Younger

More About this Book

YOU: The Owner's Manual, Updated and Expanded Edition: An Insider's Guide to the Body that Will Make You Healthier and Younger

Between your full-length mirror and high-school biology class, you probably think you know a lot about the human body. While it's true that we live in an age when we're as obsessed with our bodies as...

Stress can hit you when you least expect it—before a test, after an accident, or during conflict in a relationship. While everyone experiences stress at times, a prolonged bout of it can affect your health and ability to cope with life. That’s why social support and self-care are important. They can help you see your problems in perspective and the stressful feelings ease up.

Sometimes stress can be good. For instance, it can help you develop skills needed to manage potentially threatening situations in life. However, stress can be harmful when it is severe enough to make you feel overwhelmed and out of control.

Strong emotions like fear, sadness, or other symptoms of depression are normal, as long as they are temporary and don’t interfere with daily activities. If these emotions last too long or cause other problems, it’s a different story.

Continue Learning about Stress

Best Health Boosters for Busy People
Best Health Boosters for Busy People
We know that you're busier than a starlet at The Ivy. But you can still get the CD for your friend's birthday made, the dishes and laundry done, and t...
Read More
What is my body's relaxation response?
Susie WhitworthSusie Whitworth
The relaxation response is inborn in everyone and results in a letting go of tension. When the relax...
More Answers
5 Surprising Ways You Are Stressing Yourself Out
5 Surprising Ways You Are Stressing Yourself Out5 Surprising Ways You Are Stressing Yourself Out5 Surprising Ways You Are Stressing Yourself Out5 Surprising Ways You Are Stressing Yourself Out
Stress is a normal part of life—but some is within your control. Find out which habits—an unhealthy diet, skimping on sleep—cause stress overload.
Start Slideshow
Is Stress Good or Bad for Athletes?
Is Stress Good or Bad for Athletes?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.