Stressed Out? Consider This
What comes to mind when you think of stress? I'm willing to bet you think of it in negative terms and as something to avoid. The truth is that everyone experiences stress and in many instances that is a good thing. Stress is simply our bodies physical reaction to challenges or demands. It is an evolutionary thing originating to keep us safe from dangers, the so called "fight or flight" reaction. In times of stress, the body increases production of certain chemicals, such as adrenaline and others, to prepare us to cope.
The cause of the stress reaction is called a stressor and this is where the negative connotation comes in. There are actually two types of stressors - eustress (positive) and distress (negative). We tend to associate all stress with distress, but that is only part of the story.
We are all familiar with the characteristics of distress, such as anxiety, concern, and a feeling of being overwhelmed. This can be short-term or long-term and is both unpleasant and potentially a threat to our health. Some things that can cause distress are the death of a spouse, having money problems, or a kid with problems at school.
Less known is eustress which has characteristics of being motivating, focusing energy, a feeling of being able to cope, and excitement. It is normally short-term in length and often fuels success and achievement. Eustress can occur with a promotion at work, taking a vacation, and learning a new hobby.
Sometimes the difference between experiencing stress as negative or positive is a case of attitude, that is how you perceive the stressor. For example, athletes face challenges all the time. Before a big game some feel anxious about their upcoming performance while others feel energized. Some may be excited about the challenge, others may be overwhelmed about everything they have to remember to do. It's not always this simple, of course, and it can be very difficult to place a positive spin on some stressors, but a change of attitude or outlook can help.
There is more about distress vs. eustress is this short article.