The Upside of Stress

stressBy Emily Murray

When we say “I am so stressed out!”,  it’s rare that we mean it in a good way. According to a new study however, it’s suggested that some difficult or challenging things may promote healthy habits are often as they support not so good ones.

Think about the last time you were stressed. Maybe it was a hectic day at work, trouble with the kids or wife/husband. In times of stress like these, we often reach out for something to comfort us. For some this may be downing a pint of rocky road but for others, it may mean taking a 5 mile run.

“Our novel finding is that people fall back into good habits in just the same way,” said study co-author Wendy Wood in the published piece in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The reason for this she explains as follows –

“People can’t make decisions easily when stressed, are low in willpower or feeling overwhelmed,” says Wood. “These pressures limit our capacity to make decisions.”

“When you are too tired to make a decision, you tend to just repeat what you usually do,” Wood says.

The data to support this study was collected from stressed UCLA students throughout the course of 10 weeks. Their eating and news-reading habits were initially reported and later followed up on. Students recorded healthy food and unhealthy foods they ate and also whether they read news columns frequently as part of their routine. They also specified what they were readying – if it was more entertainment or news based. The normal accounts of their days were compared to their habits during exam week.

During this time of high stress, the majority of those who made healthy decisions in eating or read a lot stayed true to those patterns. Those with less healthy schedules also remained in sync with those habits.

The study authors offered advice for why we may think there are simply bad habits that come from stress.

“We don’t notice so much when we fall back into good habits — these are the ones that are working for us to meet our goals, and so they aren’t problematic. It’s the bad habits we focus on, and thus people are more aware of falling back into bad habits when their willpower is low.”