What Is Eustress? The Difference Between Good Stress and Bad Stress

What is Eustress?

What is the meaning of eustress? Is there a bright side to stress, and if so, what is the difference between good stress and bad stress? This video touches upon a few of the positive and negative aspects of stress.

The human body tends to maintain a state of internal stability and physical well-being. When we’re knocked off balance, that triggers a stress response, which is often associated with strain and tension.

Is all stress bad for us, or can there be good stress?

Dr. Hans Selye, a Hungarian endocrinologist, breaks down the category of stress into Eustress or positive stress and Distress or negatives stress. The prefix eu- comes from Greek and means well or good; the same prefix you will find in the word euphoria.

Eustress enhances your functioning and helps you accomplish goals and challenging assignments. Some examples typically seen as eustress are: exercising, competing in a tournament, moving to a new location, going on a date, or riding a roller coaster. Although physiologically you’re under stress, you’re motivated by it.

Short bouts of eustress turn out to be healthy and give one a positive feeling. However, if stress persists longer, it may degenerate into a harmful condition and distress. There is no organism in nature that can sustain being in emergency mode for an extended period of time. It is generally assumed that any chronic stress is negative.

Then what determines whether you’re experiencing eustress or distress?

To a large extent, it depends on your perception. The body itself does not discern between distress and eustress. Your heart could be pounding because of anxiety and because of excitement. The brain assesses the situation and decides whether you can cope with it.

If the demands exceed the resources you have, that puts you in a threat state. The body prepares to fight or fly away from the stressor. You experience the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which increases the blood pressure, blood sugar, and suppresses the immune system.

On the other hand, if you perceive that your resources would exceed the demands, you enter into a challenge state. The body releases adrenaline, which opens up the arteries for more oxygen and smoother blood flow. You’re able to move quickly and make better decisions.

A side benefit of stress is that it pushes you toward developing closer relationships with other people. As part of its stress response, the body secretes oxytocin which is known as the ‘cuddle’ hormone. Not only does that make you seek social interaction and support, but it also enhances your empathy and readiness to be there for other people.

The tough part is that we need stress in order to become better at responding to stress and develop resilience. It is said that success lies outside of your comfort zone, but whether you get there through eustress or distress makes a quality difference.

What’s key is to understand when you can use stress to mobilize yourself for action and when to see it as a signal that it’s time to slow down the pace.

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