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 ebola

Nigeria Confirms 2 New Ebola Cases

Nigeria Ebola
Nigerian health officials wait to screen passengers at the arrival hall of Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria on Aug. 4, 2014. Sunday Alamba/AP

The two are the first infected people who didn’t have contact with the ill traveler

Nigeria’s health ministry confirmed Friday two new cases of Ebola in the country, the first people to come down with the disease who didn’t have direct contact with an infected traveler who brought the virus into the country from nearby Liberia.

Nigerian Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said both newly infected people are the spouses of two caregivers who contracted the virus and later died after giving treatment to Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian-American man who flew into the country infected with the virus last month.

Sawyer passed Ebola on to 11 other individuals before he died. The two new infections plus Sawyer bring the total number of Ebola patients in Nigeria during this outbreak to 14, five of whom have died while another five have recovered.

[AP]

TIME Infectious Disease

Nigeria Confirms 2 New Ebola Cases

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Nigerian Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu says the country has confirmed two new Ebola cases, the first two to have spread beyond those who had direct contact with the ill traveler from Liberia who brought the disease to Nigeria.

Chukwu said Friday in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, that the two new cases are spouses of patients who had direct contact with Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer, who flew into the country last month with the virus and infected 11 others before he died. The two are spouses of caregivers who treated Sawyer, both of whom later died.

These two new cases bring the total number of confirmed infections in Nigeria, including the traveler, to 14. Chukwu says five patients have died, five have recovered and four are being treated in Lagos.

TIME Infectious Disease

Liberia’s West Point Slum Reels From the Nightmare of Ebola

Residents of the West Point slum receive food aid during the second day of the government's Ebola quarantine on their neighborhood on August 21, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. John Moore—Getty

Food prices skyrocket overnight after the Monrovia slum is quarantined

A few weeks ago, West Point was merely the worst slum in war-racked Liberia. Today, it is both that and the most notorious urban center of the world’s worst Ebola outbreak.

It is also quarantined from the rest of the Liberian capital Monrovia, and its dank alleyways subject to a nightly curfew. Barricades and barbed wire have gone up, and troops posted. Ships started patrolling the waterfront on Wednesday to further restrict the movement of the 70,000 or so residents. Food prices have skyrocketed. On Thursday, hundreds of people lined up for government handouts of rice and water.

“At the moment West Point is stuck at a standstill and is in an anarchy situation,” Moses Browne of aid group Plan International told the Associated Press.

Over 1,400 people have died in the five-month Ebola outbreak, and Liberia is the country that has been worst hit. Almost a thousand people have been confirmed infected, and more than half of them have already died. Rural Lofa County is worst hit part of the country, but when it was found that Ebola had made its way into West Point, authorities became alarmed.

“There’s a higher risk of contagion for any infectious disease in an environment that is so crowded and that lacks running water and proper sanitation,” Kamalini Lokuge, a research fellow at Australian National University’s College of Medicine, Biology and Environment tells TIME.

With only four toilets, that environment would be West Point.

Adds Lokuge: “Ebola is nowhere as contagious as the flu, but you need to spread knowledge about how it is transmitted in order to control it.”

Over the past week, this has proven to be one of the gravest problems in West Point. On Saturday, a health center was looted and Ebola patients sent running, after a rumor spread that infected people were being brought in from other parts of the country. Others refused to believe the disease existed. “There is no Ebola,” some protesters attacking the clinic shouted.

“There is a high level of disbelief in the government in West Point,” Sanj Srikanthan, the International Rescue Committee’s emergency response director in Liberia, tells TIME. “The government has made a concerted effort to reach out to community leaders, youth groups and churches with the message that the only way to contain the disease is to understand it. But some people still believe Ebola is a conspiracy, and those people we need to reach.”

But even in West Point itself, conveying the gravity of the disease is a challenge. “There’s a degree of anger, people are feeling they are being neglected for others,” Srikanthan says. “This makes it harder to convince people of the seriousness of Ebola.”

Clashes erupted between West Point residents and police when the barricades were first raised and the 9 pm to 6 am curfew imposed, and the area is still tense.

On Thursday, senior United Nations officials arrived in Africa to oversee the Ebola response, including Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s pointman David Nabarro. Srikanthan, like other aid workers, believe the presence of dignitaries is of utmost importance .

“This is a forgotten corner of the world facing an unprecedented situation,” he said. “This is still a containable outbreak, but local resources are simply overwhelmed. It would be great to see some recognizable faces taking control over certain aspects of the response.”

He also believes that the situation is not entirely hopeless.

“The situation may be catastrophic, but it is one that can be turned around,” he says. “I think the risks have been overhyped, and that even humanitarians are, to an extent, affected by the fears reported by media. Being in Monrovia, you’re not necessarily going to get Ebola, it’s not airborne.”

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