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Can Stress Ever Be A Good Thing? Yes—Meet Eustress

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The narrative around stress is often about how harmful it can be for mental and physical health. While that's true, in some cases stress can have a neutral—and even positive—effect on our overall well-being. This type of "good" stress is often referred to as eustress.

Here's what you need to know about how eustress affects the body and how to differentiate it from other, more sinister forms of stress.

What is eustress?

Eustress is a positive form of stress that we feel in the face of a goal or challenge. From the Greek word eu, meaning good, and stress, eustress is just that: a good stress that can boost our motivation, focus, and drive.

"It typically occurs when we are reaching toward something we have not yet achieved, coupled with the mindset of, 'I can get there, this challenge feels exciting to me,' rather than 'I'm falling short, this challenge feels scary to me,'" explains Lindsey Pratt, LMHC, an NYC-based psychotherapist.

"Feelings of exhilaration or heightened momentum are often key components of experiencing eustress," Pratt adds. "These feelings can help propel a person toward their goal and bridge the gap between what is currently and what can be."

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Eustress vs. distress.

Compared to negative forms of stress, eustress feels different in the body. While anxiousness can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort, sleeping issues, and an inability to control one's thoughts, eustress is far more manageable.

"With eustress, the stressor involved is going to lead to increased feelings of happiness and pride," explains Amber Trueblood, MFT, a marriage and family therapist based in San Diego, California. "You feel energized from it rather than depleted.”

Think of it this way: Eustress sends motivation through the body, while distress sends stagnation. Eustress is the little voice that leads to more creative thoughts or nudges you to naturally wake up earlier to start the day. Distress or anxiety is the voice that keeps you from taking risks out of fear.

Examples of eustress.

Here are a few examples of times you might experience eustress:

  1. Preparing for a big promotion at work
  2. Getting ready to take an exam you've prepared extremely well for
  3. Planning a wedding you're excited for
  4. Working towards a challenging but rewarding new exercise goal
  5. Going back to school to study a topic that interests you
  6. Playing a new sport you've always wanted to try

Keeping your stress positive.

Even eustress can become a problem if you have too much of it. It's important to give yourself occasional mental breaks so it doesn't transform into chronic stress or anxiety over time.

"If you're under a huge amount of [any type of] stress and it's unrelenting, then you're going to have psychological and emotional damage as a result," says Trueblood. "It's important to purposely give yourself breaks and distractions—like phoning a friend or going for a run—so that the stress stays at an intermittent level and doesn't creep up into higher, chronic types of stress." 

In addition to giving your brain a break, eating a healthy diet that's low in sugar and alcohol, spending time in nature, and calling on relaxing holistic remedies like lavender oil can all help keep eustress under control.

The bottom line.

Stress seems to always have a negative connotation, but it is possible to use it as a tool to fuel productivity and boost your health. By giving yourself mental breaks, surrounding yourself with inspiration, and priming your body to better cope during stressful times, you can tip the scales towards eustress, a more positive form of stress.

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