How to use stress to your advantage

How to use stress to your advantage


We often demonize stress like it's our worst enemy. Meanwhile, you might also relate to the experience of feeling the most motivated a few days before the deadline, focusing better, and feeling more awake when there is some pressure. You may even try to use caffeine to imitate this "alert state" to get things done. After all, if stress is bad for us, why did it get passed down through evolution?


What does stress do to our bodies?

Stress is a series of biological mechanisms designed to help us react fast to life-threatening situations. Under stressful conditions, our brain (amygdala and hypothalamus) activates the sympathetic nervous system to release 「adrenaline」 into the blood.


As adrenaline travels throughout the body:

 It acts as a "YES" signal to physiological changes that can help us "fight or flight," resulting in increased heart rate/blood pressure/breathing rate and increased blood flow to vital organs and muscles.

❌ Simultaneously, adrenaline acts as a "NO" signal to "rest and digest" physiological changes (i.e., digestion, body relaxation, salivary glands secretion...).


Another stress hormone named 「cortisol」 is also released to increase the glucose level in the blood, making glucose readily available to be used as fuel. [1]


The good amount: Acute stress

Acute stress refers to short-lived stress that does not interfere with the ability to fall asleep and subsides within a few days. [2] So, Why is acute stress beneficial?

🧠 Focus and motivation 🧠

The appropriate amount of stress hormones boost your body's energy to "do stuff," narrows your focus, and primes your body for better performance. [3]

💪 Boost immune system 💪

Stress hormones released during acute stress response liberate and distribute large amounts of immune cells throughout the body to combat infections. Some studies suggest that acute stress during vaccine shots and surgery stimulates immune activity, resulting in more robust immune responses and better post-surgery recovery. [4, 5]


How to maximize the benefit of acute stress?

🛌🏾 Quality sleep 🛌🏾

Neuroscientists have identified acute stress + high-quality sleep as "The best Nootropic" formula. Short-term stress primes your body for high efficiency, while sleep restores the body and helps reduce the stress response in time. [2] More tips on better sleep here.


🤔 Change our attitude towards stress 🤔

Research from Stanford shows that people experiencing high levels of stress have an increased mortality rate, but this is only true for people who also BELIEVE that stress is harmful to their health. Experiments showed that participants who interpreted the stress response as "harmful signs of not coping well with pressure" resulted in increased heart rate and vasoconstriction, increasing the risk of developing heart diseases if continued chronically. When participants are told to view the stress response as "signs that the body is energized to meet the challenge," they feel less anxious and more confident, and their blood vessels remain dilated. Their cardiovascular profile, in this case, is much healthier and resembles our body response in moments of joy and courage. [6]


Tip: When you feel stressed with increased heart rate and breathing, tell yourself:

  • This is my body preparing myself for action.

  • This is my body getting more oxygen to my brain.

  • This is my body helping me to rise to this challenge.


😮‍💨 Physiological sigh 😮‍💨

In addition to other breathing techniques and mindfulness practices, one of the most effective techniques to reduce stress in real-time is the physiological sign. It is composed of two fast inhales followed by one long exhale. Animals and humans do this naturally when they are about to fall asleep, crying, or trying to calm down. [2]


Doing it for just 1-3 times allows our heart rate to return to baseline by immediately activating the parasympathetic nervous system. The little air sacs of your lungs tend to collapse when you are stressed, leading to CO2 build-up in the bloodstream, resulting in feelings of agitation. The air sacs are re-inflated by the double inhale, followed by the long exhale, which removes more CO2 from blood, leading to fast relaxation. [2]



Nowadays, the message we are exposed to is by and large focusing on the damaging consequences of stress, causing us to demonize stress. However, the result from various research suggests that acknowledging the benefits of stress can profoundly change the way we think, act, and feel. By adopting a "stress enhancing mindset", we switch our motivation from "how to get rid of stress", to "How do I utilize stress to better serve me? "What can I do to learn from this experience?" [7]


At TWS, we aim to find the most accurate reality and show you both sides of the coin, not just what’s trending or “like” worthy on social media. Follow us to stay updated with the coolest science-based tools that makes a difference to your life ;)



[1] Understanding the stress response. Harvard Health. (2020, July 6). Retrieved January 7, 2022, from

[2] Dhabhar F. S. (2018). The short-term stress response - Mother nature's mechanism for enhancing protection and performance under conditions of threat, challenge, and opportunity. Frontiers in neuroendocrinology, 49, 175–192.

[3] Goldman, B. (2012, June 21). Study explains how stress can boost immune system. Stanford Medicine News Center. Retrieved January 7, 2022, from

[4] Jabr, F. (2013, August 1). How short-term stress boosts immune systems. Scientific American. Retrieved January 7, 2022, from

[5] Crum, A. J., Akinola, M., Martin, A., & Fath, S. (2017). The role of stress mindset in shaping cognitive, emotional, and physiological responses to challenging and threatening stress. Anxiety, stress, and coping, 30(4), 379–395.

[6] YouTube. (2013). How to make stress your friend | Kelly McGonigal. YouTube. Retrieved January 7, 2022, from

[7] Huberman, A., & Crum, A. (2022, January 24). Dr. Alia Crum: Science of mindsets for health & performance | huberman lab podcast #56. YouTube. Retrieved January 31, 2022, from

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