Whether it’s looming work deadlines, the pressure of running a home or just being stuck in traffic, stress usually brings out our irritable side.
New research suggests, however, feeling frazzled may make people more supportive towards their loved ones.
Stressed out people were also found to be more willing to receive “emotional support” from those around them.
Read more: Can stress kill you?
“Our findings suggest that just because we have a bad day, that doesn't mean it has to be completely unhealthy,” said study author Professor David Almeida.
“If stress can actually connect us with other people, which I think is absolutely vital to the human experience, I think that's a benefit.
“Stress could potentially help people deal with negative situations by driving them to be with other people.”
Feeling continuously frazzled has been linked to everything from heart disease to depression.
Scientists from Pennsylvania State University were curious whether pressure to meet that work deadline may also bring some benefits.
“Looking at the current research, I realised a lot of studies looked at how emotional support is beneficial to other health outcomes, but not many looked at the determinants of social support,” said study author Hye Won Chai.
“We thought stress could be a facilitator in these interpersonal exchanges”.
The scientists interviewed more than 1,600 people every night for eight nights. The participants were aged between 33 and 84.
Questions probed into stressors the participants may have experienced that day, like arguments, as well as whether they gave or received support.
Results, published in the journal Stress & Health, suggest the participants were more than twice as likely to give or receive support on days they came across a stressor.
They were also 26% more likely to be open to helping others emotionally, or receiving that themselves, the following day.
The scientists were surprised by the results, with them expecting the giving of emotional support to be a stressor in itself.
“We saw that someone experiencing a stressor today actually predicted them giving emotional support the next day,” said Professor Almeida.
“This made me think it's actually possible that stress helps to drive you to other people and allows it to be okay to talk about problems – your problems, my problems”.
Giving and receiving support are said to be “the most effective and easiest coping strategies to utilise in times of distress”, the scientists wrote.
Stressed people may also help others through difficult times to boost their “potential pool for social support in the future”.
Overall, the results were similar between the sexes. There were, however, a few differences.
“Women tended to engage in more giving and receiving emotional support than men,” said Chai.
“This supports previous findings that women tend to seek more emotional support from other people when they're stressed.
“In our study, men were also more likely to engage in emotional support on days they were stressed, but to a lesser extent than women.”
The scientists hope their results will help doctors better manage stress in patients.
“The findings suggest an intervention geared toward social interaction rather than individual may be very beneficial”, said Professor Almeida.
“If we're naturally being drawn toward other people when we're stressed to get help, then interventions may benefit by incorporating the people around us.”