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Now and Then, Stress Is a Good Thing

Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More

Don’t hate me for writing this blog post. I know that stress sucks and that it’s rampant in most of our lives. Yet I feel like, sometimes, stress gets a bad rap. In fact, sometimes it’s actually neglected. You see, our society has turned into a mass of over caffeinated workhorses that view stress as the norm – so much so that it’s sometimes regarded as a non-issue.

Talking about stress may be exactly what is needed these days. Here are a couple of thoughts about stress – both the good and the bad – along with some tips for getting a handle on it in our daily lives:

Stress is a neutral concept. Stress is actually a biopsychosocial term referring to an individual’s physical, emotional, and behavioral response to changes in life that create personal demands. Stress is a perfectly natural response in our efforts to adapt to those changes.

Eustress is the term used for positive stress. We often use the word “stress” to describe negative life circumstances, so we tend to think that all stress is bad. However, good things in life can cause stress too. A new job, marriage, and becoming a parent would be seen by most as true gifts, but they still alter our previous life balance and create new demands for us.

There are benefits to eustress, including increased focus, renewed energy, enhanced life satisfaction, and heightened performance. Think about some of the sources of stress in your life right now. Could some of them actually be eustress?

Distress refers to negative stress. If eustress is the positive side of stress, then distress is the negative side. Distress can include events such as the illness or death of a loved one, job loss, or financial problems, to name a few.

Some of the effects of distress can be depression, anxiety, physical illness, and impaired performance. I’m sure you can think of examples of distress in your life in addition to instances of eustress.

Eustress and distress can occur at the same time. Ugh. Why do things have to be so complicated? Because life is complicated. Can we really untangle eustress from distress in our daily lives? I think we can. I also think that focusing on the upsides of eustress can help us manage the effects of distress. Here are some suggestions:

  • Get it on paper. Write down the stressful things you’re experiencing right now. Remember that stress can be positive or negative – the keys are that it’s creating a change in your life’s balance and is placing new demands on you.
  • Separate the list. Once you have your big list, divide it into positive and negative lists. Beside each item, write the benefits you’ve noticed from eustress or the challenges you’ve experienced from distress.
  • Use your strengths. Evaluate whether any of the benefits you’ve noticed from eustress can be applied to any of the distress in your life. For instance, has the eustress of a new job also improved your social life? Perhaps you can draw upon your expanded social circle to deal with the distress of living far away from family.

I am not trying to minimize the deleterious effects of negative stress or indicate that eustress will always outweigh our distress. But being aware of the positive effects of stress can help us cope with our life’s challenges in such a way that enhances our well-being and makes us more resilient. It also helps us be more grateful, a feeling that often gets lost when we see only negative stress in our lives.

Keep Reading By Author Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.
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