The torture of commuting, frustrations with computers freezing at the most crucial moment and parents’ infuriated dealings with their adolescent children could all have health benefits, claims a study which found that stress is not always bad for you.

Researchers found a brief dose of stress might actually be healthy, because it strengthens the body’s defences. But the study, in the American Psychological Association journal Psychological Bulletin, also showed that long-lasting stress can do serious damage by wearing out the immune system.

The most dangerous stressful situations, such as living with permanent disabilities from injuries or disease, caring for a spouse with severe dementia or being a war refugee, force people to restructure their identities or social roles and have no clear end-point, the researchers claim.

The longer stress persists, the more the immune system is hit by potentially damaging changes, the findings showed. First the defences of individual cells are broken down, then the broader immune function.

The trend emerged from a detailed analysis of American and Canadian pooled data from 293 separate scientific journal studies, which involved almost 19,000 participants.

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