It’s not easy to become a better you. That’s why it’s so hard to get in shape—exercise is stressful on your body. Studying for a big exam causes stress, and so does the pressure you feel when speaking in front of an audience.
Yet, in each of these situations, you undergo stress knowing it will help you move forward to something better.
This type of productive stress is called eustress. It’s a good kind of stress that people willingly endure to reach goals and make improvements in their lives.
What is Eustress?
You regularly hear about stress’s detrimental health effects, so it seems counterintuitive that stress could ever be a positive thing. That’s because you’re probably more familiar with distress, the body’s negative reaction to daily challenges.
Eustress is the counterpart of distress, and unlike negative stress, eustress is a healthy and productive force.
Hungarian-Canadian endocrinologist Hans Selye first defined stress in detail in 1936. His research revealed the potential negative effects of distress on the body, including increased risk of disease.
Selye also recognized the “good” stress he called eustress. He theorized that everyone should experience healthy levels of stress within a range called the “comfort zone,” because that stress actually improves performance.
Push stress above that point, though, and performance tanks, leading to illness and eventual complete breakdown. There’s a fine line between distress and eustress, so it’s important to pay attention to stress levels and evaluate if they’re helping or hurting you.
Examples of Eustress
Today, the American Psychological Association (APA) defines eustress as:
a type of stress that results from challenging but attainable and enjoyable or worthwhile tasks… It has a beneficial effect by generating a sense of fulfillment or achievement and facilitating growth, development, mastery, and high levels of performance.
Everyone experiences eustress differently. Common events involving eustress include:
- Exercise: The physical stress you undergo during a workout propels you to finish and helps your body and mind feel good as a result.
- Childbirth: Mothers delivering babies go through the immense stressors of pain, physical labor and sometimes fear. However, they push through the stress knowing that as a result, they’ll receive their newborn baby.
- First kiss: The nervousness experienced before a first kiss can feel quite stressful. Is the other person interested? When will it happen? Are you a good kisser? All the stress leading up to the exciting moment can make it feel all the more powerful when it happens.
- Travel: The monetary and physical expenses of travel may be stressful, but they’re well worth it when you have life-changing experiences.
- New social situations: Many people suffer from social anxiety, but experiencing the stress of meeting new people can be beneficial because it’s a great way to make new friends and build lifelong relationships. Plus, you learn valuable social skills along the way.
Each of these situations costs you some kind of stress, whether it’s due to an uncomfortable social interaction or intense physical activity.
In any case, getting through the stress often leads to beneficial results. You just have to allow yourself to experience that stress before you can begin making improvements.
Benefits of Eustress
It can’t be overstated that eustress is essential in living a productive life of growth. Benefits of eustress include:
- Sense of achievement
- Excitement about life
- Personal growth
- Development of resilience
- Sense of control over life
Downsides of Eustress
Notice that some of the activities that I told you cause eustress can also have negative results?
Some mothers fall into depression after giving birth and some students can overwork themselves striving for excellent grades. Here are some tips that can help you avoid causing distress instead of eustress:
- Don’t overexert yourself
- Have a support system (family and friends)
- Make time for fun activities during stressful times
- Keep a positive attitude
Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
If you’ve ever been told to “step outside your comfort zone,” you were basically being told to experience eustress.
This excellent piece of advice emphasizes the fact that you must face discomfort (or stress) to create change within.
Every time your body or mind is forced to leave its “comfort zone,” it experiences stress and readjusts.
That stress can be used to your advantage as you power through tremendous feats. You’re forced to adjust to discomfort, which makes future stressors easier to handle.
Without that healthy bit of eustress, you’ll be less likely to see change. When you don’t go to a social event you’re nervous about, you’ll miss new social opportunities.
If you don’t push through the uncomfortable part of a workout, your body won’t be conditioned to improve.
As a result of eustress-driven achievement, people often feel a sense of well-being and pride when they overcome obstacles.
It feels good to conquer that eustress! As long as you don’t push yourself too hard.
When your body or mind reaches fatigue, stressors begin to cause unhealthy distress. It’s at this point that stress takes a toll on our bodies and minds, causing the whole system to begin breaking down.
Everyone Experiences Stress Differently
The point at which eustress becomes distress is different for everyone. How you handle stress depends on your physiology, stress tolerance, coping mechanisms and other unique factors.
One person’s eustress may cause distress to someone else. There’s no one-size-fits-all prescription for eustress.
According to Selye, some stress is good for the human body and mind if it helps the individual accomplish achievements.
However, the point at which stress becomes “too much stress” and is no longer eustress for each person varies.
The type of stressors involved definitely make a difference in your body’s stress reaction. If they make you feel threatened, they’ll lead to distress. If they’re more of a challenge you know you’ll overcome, they’re more likely to lead to eustress.
Use Eustress to Battle Distress
Understanding eustress and its role in your well-being will help you reduce the damage inflicted by distress in your life. Now that you know what eustress is, you can actively turn your damaging distress into productive eustress.
It lies in the way you frame the stressors in your life.
For example, you may feel distress because you can’t find a close parking spot before work. You could let the distress fester and experience its negative effects for the rest of the day.
Or, you could turn the stress of an unexpected walk into a rewarding moment of exercise and reflection.
That same stress that would have been negative can become a positive tool to help you improve your fitness and mental health.
Without experiencing the stressful parking situation, you may have missed out on these benefits.
Start by identifying each individual stressor in your life. Think about the level of fatigue each stressor causes you, and ask yourself if there’s a positive way to tackle each stressor.
Is there any way you can use that stress as energy to improve somehow?
In this way, actively pursuing eustress can become a tool used to battle daily distress. The more you understand the way stress affects you, the better you’ll be able to harness and utilize it to become a better you.
Take the Leap
Are there leaps you’re afraid to take that could boost you to higher achievements?
Making a jump and undergoing the eustress of uncertainty may be the only way to reach those heights. By working more eustress into your life, you can minimize distress and accomplish your dreams.