“Good Stress” Causes “a Burst of Energy That Focuses the Mind”

(p. A27) It was a staple of medical thinking dating to the 1910s that stress was the body’s alarm system, switching on only when terrible things happened, often leaving a person with an either-or choice: fight or flight.

The neuroscientist Bruce S. McEwen trailblazed a new way of thinking about stress. Beginning in the 1960s, he redefined it as the body’s way of constantly monitoring daily challenges and adapting to them.

Dr. McEwen, who died on Jan. 2 [2020] at 81, described three forms of stress: good stress — a response to an immediate challenge with a burst of energy that focuses the mind; transient stress — a response to daily frustrations that resolve quickly; and chronic stress — a response to a toxic, unrelenting barrage of challenges that eventually breaks down the body.

For the full obituary, see:

Randi Hutter Epstein. “Bruce McEwen, Who Discovered That Stress Can Alter the Brain, Dies at 81.” The New York Times (Tuesday, February 11, 2020): A27.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Feb. 10, 2020, and has the title “Bruce McEwen, 81, Is Dead; Found Stress Can Alter the Brain.”)

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