When most people hear the word “stress,” they think of its negative connotations. Stress is usually associated with activities or events which are difficult, or cumbersome, or which create feelings of unease.
A demanding job, lack of money, misbehaving children, and many other situations can create stress, and the symptoms which frequently accompany it – headaches, upset stomach, trouble sleeping, etc.
- 77 % of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress.
- 73% of Americans regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress.
- 76% of Americans cited money and work as the leading cause of their stress.
Though these are statistics of the US population, many people in the world can relate to this type of stress. Stress can physically and psychologically impair our lives. Chronic stress will make us unwell, worsen illness, and age us prematurely.
That being said, stress is not always a bad thing.
Stress is an important part of our physiology; our bodies are designed to handle stress in a manner which is efficient and productive. Our fight-or-flight response is derived from the way in which we handle stress.
“Eustress” is a term which was coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye to describe types of stress which are actually good for us because they provide us with a sense of fulfillment and other positive feelings.
Selye realized that there are different types of stressors (events and situations which trigger stress), and a wide variety of ways in which stress manifests itself in different individuals; as a result, he began to differentiate between positive and negative types of stress. Distress was the term Selye coined for stress with negative consequences – the type of stress many of us think of when we hear the word.
Eustress helps us have a sense of fulfillment, purpose, and good feelings which create healthy conditions for our body. “Feel-good” hormones are released, more joy is experienced, and the body feels energized. All these things promote a healthier and happier life.
But, one of the most important things to realize about eustress is that it is not triggered by a specific set of stressors; the stressors for eustress and distress can be one and the same.
Whether a stressor triggers distress or eustress is largely determined by the attitude of the person who is experiencing the stress.
If a person perceives a stressful situation as a challenge to overcome or something which provides a sense of accomplishment when completed, then they are more likely to experience eustress. On the other hand, if they view the same situation in a negative light, and perceive it as a threat or a detriment, then they will experience the negative aspects of stress.
Similarly, an individual will not always view the same stressor in the same light. Factors such as timing, location, desirability, and level of control will greatly influence whether the stressor triggers a eustress or distress reaction.
Therefore, the key to experiencing more eustress than distress is how we control our attitudes and reactions to stressors.
Eustress is often associated with someone’s profession. This is known as occupational eustress. This type of stress is experienced by those who work in highly stressful professions, such as firefighters or doctors, but who gain a great sense of fulfillment from their work. Even though their circumstances are stressful, they generally experience high levels of life satisfaction and overall well-being — both of which have been correlated with eustress. Other activities which are commonly perceived as eustress include engaging in competitions, riding roller coasters, exercising, or playing sports.
For those who are looking to improve their quality of life—and enjoy greater feelings of fulfillment and satisfaction—eustress may be a great way to achieve that goal.
Here are 3 ways to get more eustress
1. The important thing to remember is that whether a stressful experience is positive or negative is determined almost exclusively by the attitude of the individual having it, so in order to experience less distress and more eustress, what you need to change is your outlook. Your ability to see situations in a more positive light will create more eustress in your life.
2. Take part in healthy competition to create the energetic high one gets from eustress.
3. Do more challenging exercises, choose a fun fitness goal, and feel a sense of accomplishment from pushing your body to new heights.
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If you need help with building up eustress and minimizing distress in your life, then check out my life-coaching services.