Types of Stressors (Eustress vs. Distress)

Brindusa Vanta, MD, DHMHS
Medical editor

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  1. Eustress vs. Distress
  2. Eustress
  3. Distress
  4. Examples of Eustress and Distress
  5. Work and Internal Sources of Distress
  6. What is Positive Stress?
  7. What is Negative Stress?
  8. What is a Stressor? How Does It Impact Mental Health?
  9. Coping Mechanisms for Distress
  10. Seeking Help for Distress

Stress is an intrinsic and universal aspect of human life, manifesting as the body and mind's natural response to any demand or challenge that disrupts our equilibrium. It's a physiological and psychological reaction that occurs when an individual perceives a situation as threatening or demanding, triggering a wide array of internal processes designed to help the person adapt or cope with the situation. This response includes the release of hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, that prepare the body for what is commonly known as the "fight or flight" reaction.


Stress is not inherently negative; it serves an essential function in our survival by enabling us to respond quickly to threats and challenges. However, the nature and impact of stress can vary significantly, depending on its duration, intensity, and the individual's perception and coping abilities.

Understanding stress as a nuanced and multifaceted phenomenon is crucial in discerning its potential effects on our health and well-being, paving the way for effective management strategies that harness the benefits of positive stress while mitigating the adverse effects of negative stress.

Eustress vs. Distress

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Stress is not always a bad thing. Stress is simply the body's response to changes that create taxing demands. The previously mentioned Dr. Lazarus (building on Dr. Selye's work) suggested that there is a difference between eustress, which is a term for positive stress, and distress, which refers to negative stress.

In daily life, we often use the term "stress" to describe negative experiences or situations. This leads many people to believe that all stress is bad for you, which is not true.


Woman headache

Eustress, or positive stress response, has the following characteristics:

  • Motivates and focuses energy
  • Is short-term
  • Is perceived as within our coping abilities
  • Feels exciting
  • Improves performance

As Dr. Brindusa Vanta, MD, says, "Eustress, also known as positive stress, acts as a powerful motivator, driving you to take on challenges. By embracing these stressors, you experience personal growth and resilience and a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment."


Man depressed

In contrast, distress, or negative stress, has the following characteristics:

  • Causes anxiety or concern
  • Can be short- or long-term
  • Is perceived as outside of our coping abilities
  • Feels unpleasant
  • Decreases performance
  • Can lead to mental and physical problems

Examples of Eustress and Distress

It is somewhat hard to categorize stressors into objective lists of those that cause eustress and those that cause distress because different people will have different reactions to particular stressful events and situations. However, by generalizing, we can compile a list of stressors that are typically experienced as negative or positive by most people most of the time. Worried about your mental health? Start with our anxiety test.

Examples of negative personal stressors include:

  • The death of a spouse
  • Filing for divorce
  • Losing contact with loved ones
  • The death of a family member
  • Hospitalization (of yourself or a family member)
  • Injury or illness (of yourself or a family member)
  • Being abused or neglected
  • Separation from a spouse or committed relationship partner
  • Conflict in interpersonal relationships
  • Bankruptcy/money problems
  • Unemployment
  • Sleep problems
  • Children's problems at school
  • Legal problems

Examples of positive personal stressors include:

  • Receiving a promotion or raise at work
  • Starting a new job
  • Marriage
  • Buying a home
  • Having a child
  • Moving
  • Taking a vacation
  • Holiday seasons
  • Retiring
  • Taking educational classes or learning a new hobby

Types of Stressors (Eustress vs. Distress)

Work and Internal Sources of Distress

Work and employment concerns such as those listed below are also frequent causes of distress:

  • Excessive job demands
  • Job insecurity
  • Conflicts with teammates and supervisors
  • Inadequate authority necessary to carry out tasks
  • Lack of training necessary to do the job
  • Making presentations in front of colleagues or clients
  • Unproductive and time-consuming meetings
  • Commuting and travel schedules

Stressors are not always limited to situations where some external situation is creating a problem. Internal events, such as feelings, thoughts, and habitual behaviors, can also cause negative stress.

Common internally caused sources of distress include:

  • Fears (e.g., fears of flying, heights, public speaking, chatting with strangers at a party)
  • Repetitive thought patterns
  • Worrying about future events (e.g., waiting for medical test results or job restructuring)
  • Unrealistic, perfectionist expectations

Habitual behavior patterns that can lead to distress include:

  • Overscheduling
  • Failing to be assertive
  • Procrastinating and/or failing to plan ahead

If you suffer from distress associated with depression or anxiety, you may be looking to different therapies for relief. Ketamine-assisted therapy is a treatment approach that involves the use of the medication ketamine in low doses to help individuals who are struggling with mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Ketamine therapy is not indicated for stress but for commonly associated conditions such as depression and anxiety. While more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms behind how ketamine works to alleviate depression or anxiety, it has shown promise as a treatment option when other therapies do not provide enough symptom relief. Find a ketamine treatment clinic near you to learn more about the benefits of ketamine therapy.

What is Positive Stress?

Positive stress, also known as eustress, is a type of stress that can have a beneficial effect on the body and mind. Unlike other negative types of stress, which can cause anxiety and harm to the body, positive stress comes from facing challenges. It can have positive effects that help motivate and energize a person. Examples of positive stress include starting a new job or project, working toward a goal, or even exercising. When we face these challenges, our bodies release hormones that help us learn, stay motivated, and become excited about the outcome. Eustress can provide many benefits, including increased productivity, better job performance, and improved overall health.

What is Negative Stress?

Negative stress, also known as distress, is a feeling of being overwhelmed, anxious, or worried due to challenging situations. It can arise when we feel like we don't have control over the things happening in our lives or when we feel overwhelmed or are facing too much pressure from work, relationships, or other stressors. Negative stress may lead to physical symptoms like headaches, muscle tension, and heart palpitations, as well as mental health problems like anxiety and depression. It's important to identify the sources of these negative feelings and stress and find ways to cope, such as exercising, talking to friends or an online therapist, and practicing relaxation techniques.

What is a Stressor? How Does It Impact Mental Health?

A stressor is any event or situation that causes stress. It could be a physical or psychological demand that creates a response in the body, leading to stress. Stressors can be anything from a busy workday to a traumatic event or an ongoing difficult situation in life. People can experience stressors in many different aspects of their lives, and the adverse effects of stressors on individuals can vary based on variables such as their coping mechanisms and resources. Understanding stressors and how we respond to them is important for our overall mental health and well-being. By recognizing stressors, we can find ways to manage them and reduce their negative effects on our body and mind.

Coping Mechanisms for Distress

Effectively managing distress requires a multifaceted approach that incorporates both self-help strategies and, when necessary, professional support. Understanding and employing various coping mechanisms can significantly improve your ability to navigate stressful situations, reduce the impact of distress, and enhance overall well-being. Here is a brief overview of effective coping strategies.

  • Mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Practices such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation can help calm the mind and body, reducing immediate feelings of stress and anxiety.
  • Physical activity: Regular exercise is a powerful stress reliever. It can enhance your mood, improve sleep, and increase your energy and strength, making you more resilient to stress.
  • Healthy lifestyle choices: Maintaining a balanced diet, ensuring adequate sleep, and avoiding excessive alcohol, caffeine, and sugar can help reduce the physical symptoms of distress.
  • Time management: Prioritizing tasks, setting realistic goals, and breaking projects into smaller steps can help manage work-related stress and prevent feeling overwhelmed.
  • Social support: Connecting with friends, family, or colleagues can provide a sense of belonging, increase your sense of self-worth, and offer an outlet for sharing feelings.
  • Hobbies and interests: Engaging in activities you enjoy can be a great way to distract yourself from stressors and channel your energy into positive outlets.

As Dr. Brindusa Vanta, MD, says, "Looking to add meditation to your routine but struggle to find time? Try a smartwatch. It reminds you to set aside 3 minutes daily for meditation sessions. It also tracks exercise, sleep, and diet—all key components of stress management.'

When these self-help strategies are not enough, it may be time to seek professional support. Resources for professional support include:

  • Mental health professionals. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and licensed counselors can offer diagnosis and treatment for mental health issues related to distress.
  • Primary care providers. Your doctor can assess your symptoms, provide initial treatment, and refer you to a specialist if necessary.
  • Employee assistance programs (EAPs). Many organizations offer EAPs that provide confidential access to professional counseling and support services.
  • Online therapy platforms. Digital services offer convenient access to licensed therapists through video calls, messaging, or phone, making it easier for people to find help.
  • Hotlines and crisis centers. For immediate support, there are various hotlines and crisis centers available that offer confidential advice and assistance from trained volunteers and professionals.

By employing these coping mechanisms and knowing when and where to find professional support, individuals can better manage distress and work toward a more balanced state of well-being.

Seeking Help for Distress

If you're experiencing distress, recognizing when to seek professional help is crucial for your mental and emotional well-being. While it's normal to feel stressed or anxious at times, certain indicators suggest that professional intervention may be beneficial. These include:

  • Persistent feelings of overwhelm that don't improve with self-care
  • Difficulty performing daily tasks and responsibilities
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Withdrawing from social activities and relationships
  • Experiencing intense, uncontrollable emotions
  • Thoughts of self-harm or harm to others

When these or similar signs persist, it's important to consider seeking professional help. Mental health professionals can offer support and strategies to manage and alleviate distress. 

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