Turn Your Stress into Eustress

Americans are among the most stressed from among 140 countries, according to the 2018 Gallup annual poll on the world’s emotional state. Even more disheartening is that 2018’s numbers showed an increase in three major categories for Americans: stress, worry and anger.

So, let’s flip this coin and look at EUSTRESS.

Turning to the American Psychological Association for a definition of eustress, this is what we discover: “Eustress is positive stress response, involving optimal levels of stimulation: a type of stress that results from challenging, but attainable and enjoyable or worthwhile tasks (e.g., participating in an athletic event, giving a speech). It has a beneficial effect by generating a sense of fulfillment or achievement and facilitating growth, development, mastery, and high levels of performance.”

Conversely, the APA includes a definition that was first described by Hungarian-born Canadian endocrinologist Hans Selye: “The negative stress response, often involving negative affect and physiological reactivity: a type of stress that results from being overwhelmed by demands, losses, or perceived threats. It has a detrimental effect by generating physical and psychological maladaptation and posing serious health risks for individuals. This generally is the intended meaning of the word stress.”

Enough boring definitions! What does this mean for YOU?

Eustress in Action

Although everyone has a different idea of what’s exciting and what would be a fun challenge to overcome, we can all experience this feeling of euphoria and confidence to continue trying new things. It becomes a matter of viewing stress as either a threat or an opportunity – and there are some great opportunities to generate eustress:

  • Playing sports
  • Traveling to new places
  • Skydiving or scuba diving
  • Entering a contest for something you’ve recently learned (cooking, a singing competition, etc.
  • Signing up for a 5K or marathon (depending on your fitness level)

As you move through life and notice your heart racing or other stress-like symptoms, stop and ask yourself if you’re spiraling downward with “bad” stress or are improving your life with “good” stress. If it’s bad stress, take steps to address it. But if it’s good stress, then keep moving forward. Here are five key hallmarks of eustress, the “good” stress:

  • It’s short-term
  • It’s exciting, even if you also feel nervous
  • It’s energizing and motivating
  • It’s perceived as an opportunity
  • It’s within your ability to deal with it, even if it stretches you

That being said, while eustress doesn’t typically cause (or contribute to) the same type of damage to our bodies and minds as negative stress, it does put an extra load on your body.

As with anything, moderation is the key to living a healthy life. So, as you choose how to spend your free time, remember to look for a balance in your emotions and physical health. But above all, enjoy your life and chase after those dreams!