Whenever you experience stress, your brain releases cortisol and DHEA. That can be bad news. Let us explain. Higher levels of cortisol have been associated with bad outcomes, such as a weakened immune system and depression.
But there is good news too! A stressful event also triggers DHEA and higher levels of DHEA (which you can compare to a kind of steroid for your brain) have been linked to reduced risk of anxiety, depression, heart disease, degeneration of our brains and other diseases we typically think of as stress-related.
So the ratio between cortisol and DHEA (called the growth index) will determine if the stress wil be good or bad for you. There is even more good news. You can influence your own – or somebody else’s – growth index.
One strategy is to choose a more positive mindset toward stress. Make a conscious choice when you’re stressed to view stress as helpful, and the experience as an opportunity to learn and grow. This mindset can actually shift your stress physiology toward a state that makes such a positive outcome more likely, for example by increasing your growth index and reducing harmful side effects of stress such as inflammation.
Want to learn more? Read this TED blog here.