What Is Eustress? Yes, Positive Stress Is A Thing
Here's a word that becomes a favorite with my clients as soon as they learn it: eustress.
If you haven't heard this word before, welcome to a whole new perspective on stress. I am going to assume that you've heard the word stress. It can come in the form of anxiety or nervousness, a feeling that the walls are closing in or that you're treading water.
Uplifting, eh? Stay with me, because the first part of the word is key. Eu is a Greek root that means "good" or "well." You see the same root in the words euphoria, euphemism, and euphony. So if you put the two parts of the word together, you get a positive type of stress.
Positive stress? You bet.
It's that feeling of nervousness before an interview or before you ask someone out on a date—or before the prom, or your first day of school, or traveling to a new country.
Eustress is actually good for you. It's the heightened sense of awareness that primes you to be alert, preparing you to perform at your best.
So when you experience that feeling of stress before doing something big, the question is: How do you meet and greet it? How do you shift stress into eustress? How do you become the football coach who uses halftime nervousness to power up his team?
As a career and life coach, I work with my clients to achieve this very shift—to turn their anxiety into momentum for positive action. This worked beautifully with one client who had deep anxiety over her brother's wedding. She was in the middle of a career transition and dreaded the questions she anticipated from her relatives. We worked together to turn that energy into something useful, to ask for help from relatives who may have had connections in her industry or had completed career shifts themselves. She took the nervousness she had about her anticipated inquisition, took the lead in the conversation, and redirected the energy of those inquiring (with the assumption that her relatives wanted to help). We turned their worry and questions into work and actions. Voilà—the wedding turned potentially anxiety-triggering relatives into a curated job search team.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I actively worked to turn my stress over the impending birth into positive energy. The delivery of her older twin brothers had involved more complications than I expected, and this time I actively prepared for a different experience. I studied the writings of leading midwife Ina May Gaskin. I prepared my mind to think of this as a thrilling experience, to observe what my body could accomplish. I thought that if I labored mindfully through her birth, I would be well-prepared for the rest of parenthood. And as it happened, she came so fast my doctor told me to stop pushing!
How to make the shift.
Feeling anxiety related to a specific event is a good tip that it's important to you. But instead of letting this anxiety get the better of you, you can learn to flip it to eustress—you at your best, primed to deliver, using that extra awareness to enhance your talent.
Here are a few steps to identifying and shifting that emotion when it comes your way:
- Identify the emotion. Name it. Maybe there are a couple of emotions. Identify them.
- Identify the cause of the feeling: What's making you feel that way?
- Now try this: "If I didn't feel ______, another way I could feel is ______." For example, "If I didn't feel worried about money, another way I could feel is eager to get to work, without the clarity to know what to do." Maybe instead of anxiety, I can use that buzzy energy toward finding a new job and networking with people who can help me get it. How can I put this extra energy to use?
- Or this: "If ______ is a negative feeling, how could I spin it positively?" For example, "I am nervous as hell about this presentation. If I didn't feel nervous, I could feel excited. Pumped. Eager."
- Think of how you would respond if you were your own best friend. Fill in these blanks: "I'm feeling _____ because of _____." Let's say your situation is "I'm feeling apprehensive because I am not sure which job to choose. I'm getting keyed up and worried I'll make the wrong choice." Take the perspective that this is happening to a friend, not you. How could you help your friend do No. 3 and No. 4? Just shifting the perspective (it's not me; it's my friend) can help you flip the emotions more positively. We tend to be much harder on ourselves than we are on our friends.
You've got this.
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Allison Task is a New Jersey-based career and life coach who helps clients move through transitions, and author of Personal (R)evolution: How to Be Happy, Change Your Life, and Do That Thing You’ve Always Wanted to Do. She obtained her master's in coaching and nutrition from NYU and her bachelor’s in human development and family studies from Cornell University. Task has been coaching for more than 10 years and sees local and global clients in her Montclair, New Jersey office. She is also a speaker and on-camera host who has hosted shows on TLC, Lifetime, and Yahoo!