TIME Mental Health/Psychology

5 Weird Ways Stress Can Actually Be Good for You

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We hear over and over again that stress is unhealthy. And all that talk makes us, well, stressed. But getting worked up isn’t always a bad thing, says Richard Shelton, MD, vice chair for research in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Alabama Birmingham; after all, the body’s fight-or-flight response is meant to be protective, not harmful.

It’s only when stress becomes chronic, or when we feel we’re no longer in control of a situation, that it negatively affects our health and wellbeing.

Here, then, are five reasons you should rest easier when it comes to everyday stress—and how a little short-term anxiety can actually benefit your brain and body.

It helps boost brainpower

Low-level stressors stimulate the production of brain chemicals called neurotrophins, and strengthen the connections between neurons in the brain. In fact, this may be the primary mechanism by which exercise (a physical stressor) helps boost productivity and concentration, Dr. Shelton says. Short-term psychological stressors, he adds, can have a similar effect, as well. Plus, animal studies have suggested that the body’s response to stress can temporarily boost memory and learning scores.

Health.com: Best and Worst Ways to Cope With Stress

It can increase immunity—in the short term

“When the body responds to stress, it prepares itself for the possibility of injury or infection,” says Dr. Shelton. “One way it does this is by producing extra interleukins—chemicals that help regulate the immune system—providing at least a temporary defensive boost.” Research in animals support this idea, as well: A 2012 Stanford study found that subjecting lab rats to mild stress produced a “massive mobilization” of several types of immune cells in their bloodstreams.

It can make you more resilient

Learning to deal with stressful situations can make future ones easier to manage, according to a large body of research on the science of resilience. It’s the idea behind Navy SEAL training, Dr. Shelton says—although you can certainly benefit from less extreme experiences, as well. “Repeated exposure to stressful events gives [SEALs] the chance to develop both a physical and psychological sense of control, so when they’re in actually combat they don’t just shut down,” he says.

Health.com: 25 Surprising Ways Stress Affects Your Health

This idea may even hold true at a cellular level: A 2013 University of California San Francisco study found that while chronic stress promotes oxidative damage to our DNA and RNA, moderate levels of perceived daily stress actually seem to protect against it and enhance “psychobiological resilience.”

It motivates you to succeed

Good stress, also known in the scientific community as eustress, may be just the thing you need to get job done at work. “Think about a deadline: It’s staring you in the face, and it’s going to stimulate your behavior to really manage the situation effectively, rapidly, and more productively,” says Dr. Shelton. The key, he says, is viewing stressful situations as a challenge that you can meet, rather than an overwhelming, unpassable roadblock.

Eustress can also help you enter a state of “flow,” a heightened sense of awareness and complete absorption into an activity, according to research from psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow can be achieved in the workplace, in sports, or in a creative endeavor (such as playing a musical instrument), and Csikszentmihalyi argues that it’s driven largely by pressure to succeed.

Health.com: 13 Ways to Beat Stress in 15 Minutes or Less

It can enhance child development

Moms-to-be often worry that their own anxiety will negatively affect their unborn babies—and it can, when it’s unrelenting. But a 2006 Johns Hopkins study found that most children of women who reported mild to moderate stress levels during pregnancy actually showed greater motor and developmental skills by age 2 than those of unstressed mothers. The one exception: the children of women who viewed their pregnancy as more negative than positive had slightly lower attention capacity.

Health.com: 12 Signs You May Have an Anxiety Disorder

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Family

10 Myths and Facts About Breastfeeding

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August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month—and while breastfeeding rates in the United States continue to rise (nearly 80% of infants born in 2011 started to breastfeed), there’s still a lot that people don’t know about the topic. Does it hurt? Will my child not be as smart if I don’t do it?

We spoke with Kathy Mason, a registered nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant with Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, to clear up some common myths and misconceptions.

This guide is helpful for women making the decision whether to breastfeed their children—and for people tempted to comment on another woman’s choice on the matter.

New moms don’t make enough milk

MYTH

It’s true that women don’t produce milk for three to five days after giving birth, but they do make a thick, concentrated liquid called colostrum—and for the first few days, that’s all a newborn needs, Mason says. “Moms worry that they’re not producing enough right away, but it’s very normal for the baby to nurse and not take more than two teaspoons at a time.”

Health.com: 25 Surprising Ways Stress Affects Your Health

It’s better for baby’s weight and IQ

MYTH

If you aren’t able to breastfeed your baby—or you decide not to—you can rest easy knowing that the beneficial effects of breast milk on babies’ weight and intelligence appear to have been overstated. A 2014 Ohio State University study looked at families in which one baby was breastfed and another was fed formula and found no “breast-is-best” advantage in one child over the other. Though Mason says breast milk does have one clear advantage over formula: It contains antibodies that protect baby from infection.

It helps you shed baby weight

FACT

Moms who breastfeed burn about 300 to 500 extra calories a day compared to those who feed their babies formula, and research shows that they do tend to slim down faster. Breastfeeding also releases hormones that trigger your uterus to return to its pre-baby size and weight faster. “When the baby starts nursing you can actually feel uterine contractions as it starts to shrink,” says Mason. “It’s nature’s way of getting your body back into shape.”

Health.com: 11 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Belly Fat

It’s normal to have difficulties

FACT

While most women should be able to breastfeed their newborns, it’s not always easy: In a 2013 survey published in Pediatrics, 92% of new moms had at least one concern on their third day of breastfeeding—such as the baby not latching properly, low milk supply, or breast pain—and only 13% breastfeed exclusively for six months as is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Unfortunately, we send moms home from the hospital after just two days, and the days immediately after that are the hardest ones for breastfeeding,” Mason says. Women having trouble should know where to turn for advice, she adds: Most hospitals have breastfeeding support groups or offer out-patient consultations, and moms can also take advantage of the La Leche League‘s toll-free breastfeeding helpline: 877-452-5324. Many hospitals have classes you can take before the baby arrives, so ask if you’re interested.

It may protect against postpartum depression

FACT

A 2012 study in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine found that women who breastfed were less likely to be diagnosed with postpartum depression over the first four months than those who bottle-fed. Researchers aren’t sure what the connection is, but Mason suspects it has to do oxytocin, the “feel-good hormone” produced when a baby nurses. “Plus, if breastfeeding is going well, it helps mom feel confident that she’s able to provide for her baby,” she adds. A 2011 study from the University of North Carolina suggests the opposite link may exist, as well: New moms who have negative breastfeeding experiences within the first two weeks had an increased risk of PPD.

Alcohol helps with milk letdown

MYTH

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, booze is not a galactagogue, which is a substance that promotes milk production. (Studies have shown that drinking beer can boost hormones associated with breast milk creation, but it’s actually the barley and hops that are responsible.) So what actually helps with milk letdown? Relaxation for mom, and skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby, Mason says. “When moms put babies up to their chests, their hormones just go wild,” she says.

You can’t breastfeed after breast surgery

MYTH

Mason has seen many women with breast implants nurse their babies successfully; these surgeries often involve incisions on the underside of the breast that don’t interfere with milk production or delivery. Women who have had breast reductions, on the other hand, may have more difficulty—especially if nerve endings around the nipple have been cut. “You may not know until you try to nurse,” Mason says.

It makes your boobs sag

MYTH

One reason many women with breast implants don’t breastfeed (or stop earlier than planned) is because they think it will change the appearance of their breasts, according to a 2011 study from the American Society for Plastic Surgeons. But, as the study authors point out, it’s the number of pregnancies a woman has—not whether she breastfeeds—that causes breasts to sag over time. That’s true with or without implants.

Health.com: 19 Diet Changes to Make During Pregnancy

It’s supposed to be painful

MYTH

“A lot of moms expect breastfeeding to hurt, and it is true that mom’s nipples may feel tender for the first couple of weeks,” says Mason. “But if the baby’s latching properly, there shouldn’t be real pain or soreness.” That’s why it’s so important to talk to a lactation consultant at the hospital (and perhaps after you go home) who can help you and your baby make the process as comfortable as possible, she adds.

It’s important to stay hydrated

FACT

Not drinking enough water can certainly affect how much milk you’re making, says Mason, which is why it’s important to stay hydrated (among other reasons). But you don’t have to go overboard, she cautions: “You don’t have to drink until it’s coming out of your ears; in fact, research suggests that overhydration can also decrease milk production, just as dehydration can.” Judge your hydration levels by your urine color, she recommends: light yellow means you’re drinking enough, dark means you should sip more.

Health.com: 14 Weird Reasons You’re Dehydrated

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Infectious Disease

9 Mosquito-Bite Facts You Need to Know

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Thanks to West Nile virus, mosquitoes have been in the news lately—and likely all over your backyard—but how much do you really know about them and the risks they pose? We spoke with Jorge Parada, MD, medical director of the Loyola University Medical System Infection Control Program and advisor to the National Pest Management Association, and learned some surprising facts about summer’s least favorite insect and their bothersome bites.

Not all mosquitoes bite

There are about 170 different mosquito species in North America (and 3,500 worldwide), says Dr. Parada, but not all of them bite humans. Of those that do, it’s only the females who are bloodsuckers—they use the protein to produce eggs. There are two species responsible for spreading disease in the United States: the Aedes aegypti and the Aedes albopictus, the latter of which is commonly known as the Asian tiger mosquito because of its black and white stripes.

It’s unclear whether the bugs are attracted to blood type

“Studies have claimed that people with Type O blood get bitten more than people with Type A or Type B, but these findings have been disputed,” says Dr. Parada. There’s also little evidence that wearing dark clothing attracts more mosquitoes, as is commonly believed.

…But we know they like CO2

More likely, mosquitoes are drawn toward people who exhale higher levels of carbon dioxide—like pregnant women or beer drinkers, as some studies have suggested. “Mosquitoes find hosts by detecting body heat and chemical signals,” says Dr. Parada. “It is possible that these factors contribute to increased production of carbon dioxide, making it easier for mosquitoes to sense human presence.”

Some people itch more than others

Almost everyone will feel the itchy aftermath of a mosquito bite, says Dr. Parada, although it can be worse for certain people who tend to develop more pronounced bumps or hives. “The itchiness is due to histamine release in our bodies in response to the mosquito’s saliva that’s injected while they’re drinking our blood,” he explains.

Yes, scratching makes bites worse

If you can resist, try not to scratch those itchy bumps: It only stirs up the skeeter saliva and increases your body’s histamine response, therefore making the itching worse, says Dr. Parada. “Additionally, over-scratching might cause breaks in the skin that can leave room for an infection.”

OTC meds can help

After a mosquito run-in, the best course of action is to wash bites using mild soap and cold water, which can provide some relief and also help reduce infection risk. If the bites still itch, treat them with anti-inflammatories or topical antihistamines, like Benadryl gel or over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream.

They can spread a scary new virus

Chikungunya is a viral infection transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito and there is currently no vaccine or drug treatment. Although it was first reported in North America on the Caribbean islands, two cases in Florida were discovered in July. “It’s likely only a matter of time before more locally transmitted cases are reported in the United States,” says Dr. Parada.

Symptoms typically start four to eight days after being bitten, last about a week, and include severe joint pain and swelling, fever, and headaches. “Chikungunya is generally not fatal,” says Dr. Parada, “but the painful symptoms have led people to say ‘It won’t kill you, but it may make you wish you were dead!’”

West Nile is still a threat

If that’s not enough to worry about, mosquitoes in North America still carry West Nile Virus, as well. “The total number of cases is down this year compared to recent years, but the disease is still a threat, especially in late summer and early fall when mosquitoes are most active,” says Dr. Parada.

Most cases of West Nile are mild and people will recover completely, but older adults, diabetics, and people with compromised immune systems are at risk of developing serious infections from the virus. Anyone experiencing a high fever, severe headaches, muscle aches, and nausea or vomiting should seek immediate medical attention.

Not all repellants are equal

Topical products containing the insect repellant DEET have been shown to keep mosquitoes at bay, but the concentration of this ingredient can vary widely—anywhere from 4% to 100%. (Lower concentrations may need to be applied more frequently, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that amounts over 50% don’t offer additional protection.)

Alternatives to DEET include products containing picaridin (another synthetic compound) or oil of lemon-eucalyptus, says Dr. Parada. So-called “spatial repellants,” like citronella candles or coils, may also help clear the air of mosquitoes, but there aren’t any peer-reviewed studies to support those claims. And if those mosquito-repelling smartphone apps sound too good to be true, that’s because they probably are: There’s no evidence that the ultrasonic frequencies they emit will actually deter the bugs.

More on Health.com

Mosquito-Borne Chikungunya Virus May Be Headed for U.S.

Scientists Seek to Take Bite Out of Mosquito Problem

Asian Tiger Mosquito Could Spread U.S. Disease

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME

15 Myths and Facts About Cellulite

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ONOKY - Fabrice LEROUGE—Getty Images/Brand X

Truth, lies, and cottage cheese thighs

Got cellulite? You’re not alone: The cosmetic condition affects nearly 90% of women at some point during their lives, even women who are otherwise slender and fit.

As common as cellulite is, there’s also an awful lot of misinformation out there about what it is, what causes it, and how to get rid of it. So before placing blame, scheduling a cosmetic procedure, or spending a fortune on over-the-counter products, read up on the real story behind cellulite.

Health.com: How to Get Rid of Annoying Body Problems

Cellulite is caused by toxins in your body

Myth

Some over-the-counter cellulite products may claim to help remove impurities and toxins from the body. But neither their efficacy nor their claims about what causes cellulite are supported by science. Rather, cellulite occurs when underlying fat deposits begin to push through layers of collagen fibers, or connective tissue, under the skin (often in the buttocks and thigh areas, but also on arms, stomachs, and other common trouble spots, as well). Connective tissue can be weakened by hormones, lack of exercise and muscle tone, excess fat, and poor circulation, says New York City-based dermatologist Cheryl Karcher, MD. But the condition is not caused by “toxins.”

Women get more cellulite than men

Fact

Women tend to carry more fat around their hips and thighs. We also have less supportive connective tissue to keep it all in place. “If you think of a scaffolding outside a building that has those X crosses on them, that is sort of what men’s fat chambers have,” says David McDaniel, MD, director of the Institute for Anti-Aging and assistant professor of clinical dermatology at Eastern Virginia Medical School. It is estimated, however, that about 10% of men suffer from cellulite, as well.

Cellulite gets worse with age

Fact

Hormones also seem to play a role in the appearance of cellulite: As women age, their bodies produce less estrogen—a hormone that helps keep blood vessels flowing smoothly. Less estrogen can mean poorer circulation, which can also mean a decrease in new collagen production and the breakdown of older connective tissue.

Health.com: 13 Everyday Habits That Age You

Cellulite may be in your genes

Fact

It’s true that cellulite runs in families; if your mother and grandmother had cellulite, you have a better chance of also developing it. In fact, there’s even a genetic test on the market that can tell you whether you have a gene variant that puts you at higher risk for moderate to severe cellulite—but, considering that most women will develop cellulite in their lifetimes (and the fact that you’ll know it when you see it), it’s not exactly worth its hefty price tag. If you’re not one of the lucky ones with smooth-skinned relatives, take heart: Genetics is only one small part of the cellulite puzzle; factors like diet, exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight also play a role.

Cellulite only happens to out-of-shape people

Myth

Being overweight does make the appearance of cellulite more noticeable; the more fat you have underneath your skin, the more it’s likely to put stress on your connective tissue and bulge out of its weak spots. But cellulite also happens to women of all shapes and sizes, says Shira Ein-Dor, owner of the American Cellulite Reduction Center in New York City. “I even treat Victoria’s Secret models,” she says. “They’re very lean, they work out and eat well, they do everything right but they still have cellulite.”

Exercise can reduce the appearance of cellulite

Fact

A regular exercise practice cannot cure cellulite—but in many cases it can help prevent or reduce its appearance. Cellulite occurs when connective fibers underneath the skin become weak or lose their elasticity, but stretching and strengthening those areas (in addition to burning away excess fat overall) can help. “Firming and toning those muscles will in turn tighten the skin, giving the illusion that cellulite is less noticeable,” says Dr. McDaniel. Yoga routines that target the butt and thighs can help, as well as strength-training moves that build muscle and boost circulation.

Cardio is best for reducing all-over jiggle

Myth

Running or other forms of cardio can help keep weight off, which may reduce the appearance of dimples and dents. But to really smooth out your skin, you’ve got to strength train. One study by researchers at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts, found that adults who did three 30-minute aerobic workouts each week for eight weeks lost four pounds, but gained no muscle—and only slightly improved body composition. When they paired 15 minutes of aerobic activity with 15 minutes of strength training three times a week, however, they lost 10 pounds of fat, added two pounds of muscle, and saw a greater overall improvement in body composition. In other words, they looked better and lost some of the wiggle!

Skin-firming creams can cure cellulite

Myth

Despite what you might read on their labels, no topical creams—prescription or over-the-counter—have been shown to permanently reduce the appearance of cellulite. Studies have found, however, that products containing retinoids (labeled as retinol over-the-counter) may provide some temporary effects by creating a thicker skin cover that can help camouflage bumps. There is limited evidence that creams or scrubs with stimulant ingredients, like caffeine, ginger, and green or black tea, may also help by improving circulation and breaking down fat-cell stores, but they are less proven. “Mostly I think if these topical creams work—and I think most probably do little or nothing—they are more likely to help with slimming and body contouring, which is not the same as cellulite,” says Dr. McDaniel.

Health.com: The Best Strength Moves for Weight Loss

Skin fillers can even out dimply skin

Fact

Injectable dermal fillers like Restylane and Radiesse, used primarily to plump up sagging cheekbones and remove facial wrinkles, have also shown to be beneficial—at least temporarily—for cellulite-plagued sections of skin. “It’s like putting icing on a lumpy cake to make it look better,” says Dr. Karcher. “Especially if someone is really skinny and they have a few really deep divots, a filler can plump that up and even it out really well. However, the procedure can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars per leg, she adds, and the results tend to only last a few months.

Non-invasive procedures for cellulite really do work

Fact

Laser, radio-frequency, and massage techniques have been used for several years to reduce the appearance of cellulite—and while their results are not permanent, they are effective in the short-term, says Dr. Karcher. “These are going to work better than some drug-store cream, and they can be worth it if you have the time and the money to spend on them.” Some (like TriActiv and VelaSmooth laser treatments) require 10 to 15 sessions to significantly improve appearance, and require monthly maintenance appointments. Others (like the radio-frequency treatment Thermage CL) are more expensive but results seem to last six months to a year.

Health.com:16 Ways to Lose Weight Fast

Liposuction will make your legs (or arms, or tummy) look better

Myth

If cellulite is your problem, liposuction should not be your solution, says Dr. McDaniel. In fact, the cosmetic procedure could even make fat distribution more uneven, making its outward appearance even worse. Another vacuum-like (but non-surgical) procedure, however, known as Endermologie, has been shown to help: During Endermologie, a technician runs a suctioning device surrounded by rollers over a patient’s skin, pulling and squeezing trouble spots for about 30 minutes. Resultsare visible after about 10 visits (two per week), which can cost between $80 and $150 each.

Certain foods can help fight cellulite

Fact

Your diet alone can’t determine whether you will or will not get cellulite, but eating a well-balanced, plant-heavy diet can reduce inflammation throughout your body and help you maintain a healthy weight, says Dr. McDaniel. Staying hydrated—both by drinking water and by eating plenty of foods withhigh water content—will also keep your connective tissue strong and supple, and may even help you slim down. Aim to eat more cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes, and bell peppers, which (along with many other fruits and veggies) are all more than 90% water.

Only a dermatologist should perform cellulite treatments

Myth

A skin doc is a good place to start, and many dermatologists do perform treatments in their clinics. But cellulite is not a medical condition, says Ein-Dor, and a medical professional is not required to treat it. “I am not a doctor, but because I focus only on cellulite, I can provide many more options in my center than most doctors can provide in their offices,” she says. Medi-spas can also perform treatments such as Endermologie and non-invasive laser procedures—but Ein-Dor cautions that you make sure your technician is licensed and has received proper training on whatever device you choose. (If you want a surgical procedure like Cellulaze, however, you’ll need to see a dermatologist or cosmetic surgeon.)

The clothing you wear can make an impact

Myth

Yes, wearing compression-style leggings while you exercise can reduce thigh jiggle as you move—but it’s only a temporary effect, says Dr. Karcher, and you’re unlikely to see any change after you strip down post-workout. “For any clothing that claims to actually have lasting results, it’s just a marketing gimmick and it’s not true,” she adds. In fact, for some tight clothes, the opposite may be true: Elastic bands on underwear, for example, can actually contribute to the appearance of cellulite if they cut off circulation and limit blood flow.

Smoking can affect the appearance of cellulite

Fact

Cigarette smoke has been shown to reduce blood vessel flow and to weaken and disrupt the formation of collagen, allowing for the connective tissue to become stretched and damaged more easily and for underlying fat to show through. Plus, smoking can make you look bad (literally) in lots of other ways, as well: It causes premature wrinkles and aging, leave skin dry and discolored and can contribute tostretch marks, to name a few.

There’s no permanent cellulite solution

Fact (for now)

This one’s not exactly true or false, but scientists do seem to be getting better and better at finding long-term solutions for treating trouble spots. The most recent and promising procedure is a surgery called Cellulaze, approved by the FDA in 2012, in which an optic laser melts fat, breaks up fibrous connective tissue and stimulates the growth of new collagen, all through a pinhole-sized incision in the skin. “It’s great because it works on both those fibers that are pulling down your skin and on the fat globules that are popping through,” says Dr. Karcher. Recovery is quick, too: “You might be a little bit sore afterward, but you can have it done on a Friday and be back to work by Monday.” The treatment starts at about $3,500 per leg, but results seem to last at least a year or two.

This article originally appeared on Health.com

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