How stress can make you stronger, smarter

Whether it's that big project at work, the traffic that never ends, or that test we're not quite ready for, stress is part of life.  But there’s growing evidence stress may make us stronger and smarter.

Dr. Sharon Bergquist, an internist at Emory University Hospital, says we can’t escape stress.  So, she suggests we embrace it and see it as a opportunity o grow and learn.  

"The question always comes up,” Dr. Bergquist says. “'Why do some people thrive under stress? And why do some people just have stress destroy their life and their quality of life?’"

Dr. Bergquist believes the difference between the people who are overwhelmed by stress and those who overcome it really comes down to resilience, and how we view stress.

"So, people who tend to avoid stress tend to have very low resilience,” Bergquist says. “Whereas people who survive really traumatic events in their life tend to view stress as something that's unavoidable."

And experiencing stress may be good for our brains. Research shows each time we work our way through a challenging situation, our brains recover and rewire themselves to learn from our experience.  So, the next time we face a similar situation, we'll know what to do.

Tackling a difficult task could act as a "stress inoculation."

That under-the-gun experience could help "vaccinate" us to withstand the next stressful challenge down the road.

"If you take a college student who crams for that test,” Dr. Bergquist says. “The next time he feels more confident that he can really do well in that class."

If you’re feeling stressed about something,  Dr. Berquist says, try re-framing your approach.

"Look at it as an opportunity to learn,” she says.  “Look at it as a challenge. And, just by doing that, your brain can start to secrete these hormones that help you really learn from it and do better the next time."