Eustress is good stress. It is a term coined by Dr. Hans Selye, a Canadian medical doctor, in the 1950’s. We often think in terms of stress as being bad as in “I’m all stressed out.” But, if we had a life of no stress at all, we’d be bored, lethargic, unmotivated and apathetic. We need some stress in our lives. We might say that good stress, eustress, is the “spice in our life.” Of course, some people prefer more mild spice whereas others may like it hot. Each person has their own threshold for their optimal level of stress. What is eustress for one person could be “distress” for another. Distress is the word used to represent those pressures, tensions and strains upon us that can make us ill; it is the “bad” stress.
Stress, either eustress or distress, is not entirely caused by external situations such as pressures on the job or conflicts in the home. Stress is caused as much, or more, by how we interpret our situation. Still, if we are experiencing distress, we are likely not happy, healthy or performing are our best. Some of the symptoms of distress can be moodiness, irritability, depression, insomnia, excessive worry, poor memory, feeling overwhelmed, loss of appetite, decreased sex drive, substance abuse and pessimism. Though these symptoms may be caused by problems other than distress, they are, nevertheless, signs that something is not quite right.
If you are experiencing distress and telling yourself you need to get rid of or reduce your stress, perhaps that is not the best approach. It’s difficult, if not altogether impossible, to visualize a negative. It works a lot better to visualize a positive, which would be to increase the eustress in your life. What does that look like for you? What is positive stress for you? Stress reduction methods are important, such as relaxation techniques, watching a pleasant movie or something as simple as a walk in the park. But, those are not necessarily eustress activities. Eustress activities are stressful; they add some tension and pressure to our life. But, they are fun. They are exciting. They are uplifting.
Some activities that can generate eustress include: learning something new, engagement in a meaningful project, travel to a new place, meeting new people, stretching yourself outside your comfort zone. Of course, all of these can generate anxiety as well. However, anxiety and excitement are very similar. Physiologically, i.e., the body response such as sweating, increased heart rate, faster breathing, etc, it may be difficult to distinguish between anxiety and excitement. What makes a situation anxiety producing or exciting has a lot to do with how we interpret the event. Just understanding that stress can be positive and healthy, that we actually need some stress in our lives, can transform what we was distress into eustress. And, of course, the amount of stress we subject ourselves to is important. Eustress can become distress if it is prolonged. Exercise is a good example. A one-mile walk can be eustressful; but, if it should become a 10-mile walk, it may become distressful.
Stress management is part of our overall health maintenance. It is a topic of considerable importance in the medical field, as well as in business, for we all know that stress causes both physical and mental health problems. But, let us remember that we don’t want to eliminate stress. We want to keep our distress down, and our eustress up.