While we commonly think of stress as a bad thing, that’s not necessarily true. Positive stress, also referred to as ‘eustress’ by mental health professionals, can actually be a good thing in the right conditions. Certain stress levels help keep your mind and body alert and ready to respond. It can be motivating and could even help you perform better.
Dr Vicki Edwards, Clinical Director of Purple House Clinic Leicester, a provider of mental health and neurodiversity services, takes an insightful dive into the dual nature of stress and offers some practical tips on how to deal with life’s challenges…
What is good stress?
Good stress is a form of stress that can have various positive impacts. Examples of good stress include experiences such as going on a first date, starting a new job, anticipating an upcoming test or exam, or preparing for an important speech. This type of stress can teach us valuable lessons about our strengths and resilience, often leading to a positive self-perception. It acts as a strong motivator, increasing focus and driving us toward specific goals.
In the right conditions, the extra adrenaline caused by stress can even improve performance, with 54% of people agreeing that a perfect amount of stress enables them to thrive1. Stressful events can also foster a sense of solidarity and support among people, as sharing experiences and seeking advice in tough times brings comfort. Additionally, stressful situations often force individuals to step out of their comfort zones and confront difficult circumstances, which can lead to personal growth, increased self-confidence, and the development of new skills.
What is bad stress?
Bad stress, often evolving from ‘good stress’, manifests in various forms, such as relationship strain, the passing of a friend or spouse, financial difficulties, or workplace pressures. It primarily comes in two types – acute and chronic. Acute stress is a type of stress that arises suddenly in response to a specific event or situation. Managing acute stress effectively involves recognising the stressor and employing coping strategies to relax and regain balance.
In contrast, chronic stress results from repeatedly facing stressors that take a heavy toll, such as a stressful job or an unhappy home life. Our bodies are not equipped to handle chronic stress and enduring it for extended periods can lead to severe physical and mental health issues. When you’re stuck in a state of bad stress, your endocrine, digestive, excretory, immune, circulatory, and reproductive systems cannot perform their normal activities. The chronic stress you undergo changes your entire way of physical, psychological, and physiological functioning.
How to deal with stress
Find ways to relax and unwind, develop new hobbies that bring joy, and pay attention to your physical health. Staying active and spending time outdoors have been shown to reduce stress. Physical activity releases ‘good hormones’ which counteract stress and help your body to regulate itself, reducing the symptoms of anxiety associated with stress.
Building a strong support network is also important for managing stress. This includes friends and family, as well as seeking support at work, school, or university. Knowing you’re not alone and that everyone experiences stress at some point can be incredibly reassuring. It’s also important to identify the triggers of your stress. While it may not always be possible to avoid these triggers, being prepared and aware can significantly reduce their impact and help you cope with the situation better.
Finally, set realistic and achievable goals. Setting the bar too high can create more stress, whereas reaching targets can create a sense of accomplishment and achievement. By addressing stress from these various angles, you can manage it more effectively and maintain a healthier, more balanced life.
Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.