There are two effects of stress, eustress which is the good kind and distress which is the not so good kind.
What is stress?
It is not easy to provide a specific definition for stress.
The effects of stress can result from:
- Situations that put pressure on us
- Our reactions to being placed under pressure
When these two run concurrently with each other the effects of stress can in extreme cases result in a breakdown in one’s mental wellbeing.
A practical example
SM is a trial lawyer and has got a complicated 3 day trial coming up in 2 weeks and there is a lot of preparation which is left to do. This would be classed as a situation that has put pressure on SM.
Due to the situation, SM feels overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work and feels she cannot cope. The feelings of being overwhelmed and not being able to cope are SM’s reaction to the situation.
Depending on how SM’s perceives her reaction to the situation she is in, she could excel under pressure (eustress) or suffer a panic attack (distress).
Being stressed is part of everyday life and can lead to a burst of energy in completing a task. However, if you often become overwhelmed by stress then it can lead into a downward spiral in one’s mental and physical wellbeing.
Stress can sometimes be positive and eustress is exactly that- positive stress.
Eustress can help us keep motivated, energised, remain in ‘flow’ and work towards a goal. Further information about flow states can be found on my blog here.
In contrast, distress is an unpleasant emotion, feeling or thought which can affect the way you think, feel and act. Rather than keeping us motivated and energised it can affect our mood leading to anxiety and/or depression.
Do we need more eustress?
Getting out of our comfort zone can be good for our physical and mental wellbeing. It gets us out of being stuck in a rut and repeating the same patterns. With the positive feelings that accompany eustress it can help an individual thrive emotionally, mentally and physically.
Emotional eustress- feelings of motivation, inspiration, flow
Mental eustress- building up one’s resilience, self-esteem, self-efficacy
Physical eustress- noticing changes in one’s body and stamina after a challenging workout.
Where can we use eustress?
In today’s society, we spend more time at work so utilising eustress in the working environment is a great tool. If a work related task is challenging yet realistic, this would drive one’s eustress and increase motivation.
Learning new things is part of life and setting challenges and goals around one’s interests can create eustress. This is similar to being in flow which I discuss further in my blog about flow states here.
Sometimes when you are caught up in the moment of exercise you might not even realise how exhausted you are. Here, eustress is exemplified by challenging your body (i.e. sit ups) to encourage growth (i.e. stamina)
How to use utilise eustress in your life
Just because stress is part of normal day to day life it does not mean that distress should overpower eustress. Use your positive stress to help you become more fulfilled and reach your goals. Some practical ways to do this are by:
- Moving out of your comfort zone i.e. doing a challenging work task
- Setting goals that are challenging but realistic
- Learning something new each day