Stress is a multifaced experience that affects each of us differently. We all have our unique stressors that can range from getting the kids ready for school in the morning to facing a mountain of emails on a Monday. However, it’s important to remember that stress isn’t always a bad thing.
We all dream of a stress-free life, where everything we need is abundant, and we face no obstacles in our daily routine. But let’s face it, life isn’t always smooth sailing, and stress is an inevitable part of it. Surprisingly, some stress can be healthy and keep us motivated.
Hans Selye introduced that stress can be classified into two types: eustress and distress. Eustress is the good kind of stress that motivates us, keeps us productive, and brings fulfillment to our lives. It’s the type of stress that challenges us in a positive way, leading to personal growth and development. In contrast, distress refers to the negative aspects of stress, such as ongoing anxiety and burnout. This type of stress can be harmful and can have adverse effects on our mental and physical health.
By understanding the difference between eustress and distress, we can learn to embrace the former while managing and minimising the latter. Embracing eustress can help us lead a more fulfilling and meaningful life, while managing distress can help us avoid the negative impacts of excessive stress.
Above is a stress continuum where we can identify where stress becomes too little, optimum and too much. As you can see it is a fine line we need to cross to be over or under. So, what ways can distress, and eustress impact us? Below is a non-extensive list of some ways we can be affected by each of these stressors.
As you can see from this chart, there are many benefits of having eustress in your life compared to living in distress. But how do you know which state you are in? It all comes down to how you respond to these stressors.
One way to distinguish between the two is to categorise events as “threats” or “challenges.” Threats, such as an abusive relationship or a family member’s illness, can lead to distress and negative consequences if prolonged. On the other hand, challenges, such as a hard workout or a promotion, may be difficult to overcome but can lead to growth and development.
It’s important to remember that distress can transform into eustress with the right mindset. While it’s natural to feel distressed after a setback, such as losing a job, it’s essential to transition into a challenge and focus on the opportunities it presents. This shift in mindset can help to turn a negative experience into a growth opportunity. Avoiding stress may be instinctual, but embracing eustress can encourage positive personal development, this is the approach of turning a flight or fight response into a flow where we feel motivated.
Another way to define eustress is that it occurs when there’s a slight push beyond what one currently has, but not to the point of being overwhelming. In this scenario, the goal is within reach, but still requires some effort to achieve, creating a sense of challenge and motivation. This slight increase in demand can lead to growth and positive outcomes, making eustress a valuable tool for personal development.
Changing your mindset to see distress as eustress can be a challenging but valuable endeavour. One way to do this is to practice reframing your thoughts about a stressful situation. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of the situation, try to look for potential opportunities for growth and learning. Focus on what you can control and take action to address the situation, rather than feeling overwhelmed and helpless. Additionally, try to cultivate a sense of optimism and resilience by practicing gratitude and positive self-talk.
Ways to change your mindset:
-Talking about your stress
-Meditation and mindfulness
-Focusing on sleep hygiene.
It is important that we try and implement the above strategies and turn our flight or flight response into a positive experience with stress, and ultimately shift distress to eustress because of the effect it can have on our health.
Our bodies cannot distinguish between distress and eustress, as both types of stress result in the release of cortisol. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal cortex in response to physical or emotional triggers and helps our bodies deal with stress by redirecting energy toward managing heightened stress levels. However, when cortisol levels remain elevated for extended periods, as is the case with distress, it can have detrimental effects on our health. Elevated cortisol levels can suppress the immune system and interfere with T-cell production and function, making us more susceptible to illness. Additionally, cortisol inhibits insulin production, which can lead to insulin resistance over time and a host of related health issues.