Eustress: Can Stress be Positive?

Eustress Positive Stress

Stress is and always has been perceived as a bad thing. But did you know that stress can actually be a positive force that can increase our productivity and performance and bring happiness and a sense of well being? Just as there are two sides to every coin, stress can impact us in positive and negative ways. When it impacts us in negative ways we call it distress and when it impacts us in positive ways we refer to it as Eustress. Eustress was named so by the endocrinologist Hans Selye, who used the the Greek prefix “eu” which means “good” to coin the term. Hence the name Eustress or “Good Stress”.

Stress can be both physical and emotional. For example, when you meet with an accident and break your ribs or tear your muscles, it can create negative physical stress. At the same time, when you lift weights, run or jog you feel positive stress that makes your body fit and healthy.

Emotional stress works in much the same way. When you receive news of a job promotion, when you start a new job, when you get married or have a baby, when you buy a new home, or when you are take a vacation you experience some level of stress. But this stress motivates you, makes you excited, and stimulates you to do better giving you an overall feeling of optimism and well being.

The Perception of Stress

However, not everyone experiences stress the same way. Some incidents, though they are positive can actually turn into negative stress and some incidents, though negative in nature can actually result in positive stress. For example, let’s say Mr. John won a lottery amounting to a million dollars. He is excited and happy on hearing the news and quickly books himself a new home, a flashy car and a cruise around the world. But everything starts to fall apart when his friends and relations start asking him for financial assistance; charitable organizations bombard him to help the poor in need; and he’s also constantly worried now about how to manage all that money and avoid paying huge taxes. This makes it difficult for him to sleep at night, causing more anxiety and poor health. The changes in circumstances although good have added a negative stress on Mr. John.

Positive Stress

Now let’s take another example. Ms. Charmaine has just lost her job. She is a single mother of a 5 year old girl and she needs to pay her mortgage and take care of her old mother who is living with her. Charmaine’s job loss has affected her badly. She has knots in her stomach and is afraid of losing her home and providing for her family. After brooding for a day or two, she reviews her skills and updates her resume. When she does this, she feels positive and motivated to get a new job. That’s because her contributions in the previous job were exceptional and she believes that her past work will stand her in good stead in her next interview. This positive stress makes her bold and confident and helps her land the job.

So eustress as such is just not a type of stress but a perception of an incident or event and how that perception helps in overcoming the challenges and obstacles in life.

Can Eustress Be Helpful?

Stress can be helpful as long as it does not become overwhelming. When you prepare for your exams, if you constantly fear and worry that you may not know the answers to the questions in the paper, you will most likely be unable to get good grades in that paper.

On the other hand, if you are positive and enthusiastic about taking that exam, your brain gets into study mode, removing distractions and internal doubts from the way and letting you focus on studying and achieving your goal.

Just because good stress can have a positive impact on our well being doesn’t mean you go about purposely seeking to find it or create situations that can boost it. Too much of a good thing can be bad and that applies to eustress as well. When you get super excited, you behave recklessly, make poor decisions and wear out quickly, which will affect you negatively. Instead you need to find that ideal level of stress that can help you work at your optimum level.

Stress Balance

Finding the Right Balance

To do this, you simply need to pay attention to the way you respond to different situations. You need to find your “comfort level” and try to work within that level. If life is becoming too monotonous, you need to find new hobbies or exciting things to do that will spice up your life.

And if you’re having way too much of fun, you need to tone it down a little and spend time doing less and relaxing. Its all about finding that rhythm that helps you keep your balance. This level is different for different people and it takes time to figure things out, but when you do, you’ll find yourself more in control of your stress and living a healthy and happy life.

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