We all experience stress at some point. Whether it’s daily chronic stress or occasional bumps in the road, stress can sneak up on us at any time.
What you may not know about stress is that it’s not all bad. In fact, we can experience eustress, or positive stress, just as frequently as we do negative stress.
What is eustress?
If the idea of positive stress is new to you, you’re not alone. Most of us equate all stress with negative experiences.
Clinical psychiatrist Dr. Michael Genovese says we rarely think of stress as a positive thing, but eustress is just that — positive stress. “Exciting or stressful events cause a chemical response in the body,” he explained.
Eustress is usually a product of nerves, which can be brought on when faced with a fun challenge. Genovese says this is important because, without eustress, our well-being can suffer.
“Eustress helps us stay motivated, work toward goals, and feel good about life,” he added.
What is distress?
In terms of opposites, distress and eustress are on either end of the spectrum. Unlike eustress, distress can make you feel overwhelmed because your resources (physically, mentally, emotionally) are inadequate to meet the demands you’re facing.
Licensed professional counselor Casey Lee, MA, says this type of negative stress can lead to anxiety, depression, and a decrease in performance.
Working and living outside of our comfort zone is a good thing. It’s when we feel overwhelmed that stress can turn negative. That’s what makes eustress such an important part of our overall health.
“Eustress produces positive feelings of excitement, fulfillment, meaning, satisfaction, and well-being,” Lee said. He explains that eustress is good because you feel confident, adequate, and stimulated by the challenge you experience from the stressor.
Psychologist Dr. Kara Fasone says eustress is all about sufficiently challenging yourself without expending all your resources. This type of stress empowers you to grow in three areas:
- Emotionally, eustress can result in positive feelings of contentment, inspiration, motivation, and flow.
- Psychologically, eustress helps us build our self-efficacy, autonomy, and resilience.
- Physically, eustress helps us build our body (e.g., through completing a challenging workout).
You can find eustress in all areas of your life. From work and interpersonal relationships to home and family relationships, opportunities to experience positive stress are abundant.
Fasone shares some ways you may see eustress show up in your life:
Eustress at work
An example of eustress at work is taking on a new project that encourages you to leverage existing strengths (which can be incredibly energizing) and requires you to hone existing skills or learn new ones.
Work-related projects will only drive eustress if they’re challenging but realistic. If deadlines are unrealistically tight, you’re juggling numerous projects (an unrealistic workload), or working with a toxic team culture, you’re more likely to experience distress and the negative consequences that come with it.
Eustress in personal interests
Setting challenging goals around your interests or passions is another example of eustress. As humans, we have an innate ability to learn. Learning new things can be challenging. And growing expertise in an area doesn’t happen in a straight line.
There’s typically that learning stage where you may be absolutely terrible. But you’re learning from those mistakes. As you start seeing small wins and continue to build self-efficacy, you’re motivated to continue learning and improving.
Eustress and travel
Traveling is inherently stressful, especially when you’re exploring a faraway place with a different language and customs.
At the same time, you’re immersing yourself in a new and interesting place, with various foods to enjoy, new places to see, and a whole culture to experience.
Although stressful, traveling is an eye-opening experience for many people that’s viewed positively.
Eustress and physical conditioning
Physically, eustress is exemplified by challenging your body (e.g., lifting weights) to encourage growth (in this case, strength, stamina, and muscle growth).
In the gym or out on a walking path, you might be jamming out to your tunes and totally zoned into your workout. You may not even realize how exhausting the work has become because you’re caught up in the moment.
There’s a good chance you already include positive stress in your life. But if you’re looking for ways to make eustress a part of your every day, Fasone shares a few ideas to get you started:
- Learn something new every day, whether big or small.
- Push yourself outside of your comfort zone at work. This may mean taking on a new responsibility or developing a new skill.
- Exercise, exercise, exercise!
- Learn how to set goals (personal and professional) that are challenging and realistic. Track your progress to hold yourself accountable.
Stress, whether positive or negative, is a normal part of life. We may not have control over some of the negative stress we experience, but we can look for ways to include more eustress in our life.