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Stress is Not All Bad: Learn How to Use It!

Stress is an integral, and important part of your life, and it has a specific purpose. When you know how to use it to your advantage, managing and reducing stress becomes a significant tool to attain higher performance and optimal health and wellbeing.

One guaranteed way to increase stress is to stress about it. Just reading about its devastating health effects is enough to make you take note. We set unrealistic goals to be stress-free. Rather than eliminating stress, which is impossible and foolish, let’s focus on minimizing its harmful effects.

“We are not only well equipped to deal with daily stressors, but we can use our behavior to reduce the stress that is harmful”, said Dr. Hans Selye, the 20th century’s leading authority on the subject of stress and its impact on human health.

Not all Stress is Bad: Distress vs. Eustress

Our susceptibility to stress varies and is not the same from person to person. An event that causes toxic stress in one person may not trigger it in another. Experiences must interact with a wide variety of background factors to create and manifest as an illness.

Among the factors that influenced the susceptibility to stress are, genetic, coping style, type of personality and social and environmental support. When we are facing a problem, we assess its seriousness and decide whether we have the resources necessary to cope with it. If we establish that the problem is serious enough and we do not have the resources necessary to cope, we will perceive ourselves as being under stress and will, therefore, trigger a physiological response such as sweating, increased heart rate, and increased blood pressure. It’s our way of reacting to the situations that make a difference in our susceptibility to illness and our overall well-being. Research shows that resilience is the result of individuals being able to interact with their environments and the processes that either promote well-being or protect them against the overwhelming influence of risk factors.

Not all stress is bad. When the body uses stress to overcome fatigue or to enhance performance, the stress is positive, challenging, and therefore healthy. Stress is good when it forces us to adapt and warns us if we are not coping well and if an immediate lifestyle change is necessary to maintain optimal health. This action-enhancing stress gave me, as an athlete, the competitive edge. This kind of stress is called eustress.

Stress is bad when the demand exceeds our ability to perform or cope. When stress creates fatigue and behavioral or physical issues. This harmful and toxic stress is called distress. Distress causes us to overreact, leads to confusion, poor concentration, and anxiety, resulting therefore in lower and bad performance.

The key is to recognize the good stress (eustress) from the bad stress (distress) and adapt to the one that serves you most. Aligning your life and living on purpose allows you to discover ways to adapt and identify what needs your attention and your energy most and address that instead of stressing about things that are not important to you.

Most people think of stress as an emotional state that occurs when you go through a negative situation which is not true. Eustress or positive stress is short in duration, it’s exciting, and it motivates and energizes you. It brings opportunities for growth.

Distress or harmful stress lasts longer, creates fear, anxiety, and doubt, and it feels very unpleasant. It is a performance killer and has health consequences. Issues like financial problems, divorce, poor grades and bad arguments can be debilitating. The ability to cope with and manage stress can make a big difference in the quality of your life and will most likely help you live longer and happier. Because not everyone has the same reaction to particular events or situations, categorizing stressors into two lists of those that cause eustress and those that cause distress can be difficult. But we can still create a list of stressors identified by the general population as negative or positive. 

Examples of eustress: Getting engaged or married, newborn baby, lottery gains, moving or buying a home, going on vacation, retiring, getting promoted or receiving a bonus or pay raise, participating in sports competitions, starting a new job, studying for a test.

Examples of distress: Death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, illness, sleep issues, micro-management, bankruptcy of financial problems, conflicts in relationships, children poor performance at school, deadlines, overwhelming job demands, over scheduling, unscheduled or unproductive work meetings, negative colleagues or energy vampires, lack of job training or instructions, non- productive activities, separation from loved ones, legal concerns, fears or phobias, unrealistic expectations.