Apr. 16, 2013 —
Science Daily/University of California - Berkeley
Brain cells called astrocytes (pink) appear to be key players in the response to acute stress. Stress hormones stimulate astrocytes to release fibroblast growth factor 2 (green), which in turn lead to new neurons (blue).
Credit: Image by Daniela Kaufer & Liz Kirby
Overworked and stressed out? Look on the bright side. Some stress is good for you. "You always think about stress as a really bad thing, but it's not," said Daniela Kaufer, associate professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley. "Some amounts of stress are good to push you just to the level of optimal alertness, behavioral and cognitive performance."
New research by Kaufer and UC Berkeley post-doctoral fellow Elizabeth Kirby has uncovered exactly how acute stress -- short-lived, not chronic -- primes the brain for improved performance.
Kaufer noted that exposure to acute, intense stress can sometimes be harmful, leading, for example, to post-traumatic stress disorder. Further research could help to identify the factors that determine whether a response to stress is good or bad. "I think the ultimate message is an optimistic one," she concluded. "Stress can be something that makes you better, but it is a question of how much, how long and how you interpret or perceive it."