There’s stress, and then there’s stress

Apparently, not all stress is created equal. It seems, according to a recent study, that engaging in stressful tasks like trying to meet a deadline may actually strengthen the immune system, while exposure to stress that must be endured passively — like watching violence on TV — may weaken it.

This conclusion is based on a study by an Ohio State University researcher that was designed to draw out the different effects that active and passive coping might have on the body’s defenses, and represents some of the strongest evidence yet that certain kinds of stress can promote good health.

"Our findings lend scientific truth to the idea that a hassle a day keeps the doctor away," says Jos A. Bosch, a postdoctoral fellow in oral biology and lead author of the study. Bosch and his colleagues conducted their experiments on a group of 34 volunteers. The male undergraduates were exposed to a timed memory task that required them to memorize some given material and take a subsequent 12-minute test. In the second activity, they were shown a gruesome 12-minute video on surgical procedures.

The researchers found that the memory task caused an increase in the salivary concentration of a major immune factor, the SigA or secretory immunuglobulin A. The video had the opposite effect.