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Eustress: Meeting the Positive Side of Stress

Eustress, a term coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye, literally translates to ‘good stress’.

Stress is without any shadow of doubt one of the leading and most common factors contributing to mental health issues and general wellbeing in global society today. Dubbed as the ‘health epidemic of the 21st century’ by the world health organisation, stress is estimated to cost businesses around $300 billion a year in the U.S alone. Yet there is a less known sunny side to stress that is starting to attract more interest in both academic circles and the public at large.

Eustress, a term coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye, literally translates to ‘good stress’.

It points at the fact that under certain circumstances stress can have a beneficial and healthy effect on us. It can offer an opportunity to grow, meet challenges, sharpen our skills and motivation, and leave us feeling fulfilled with more meaning and hope.

Stress Hormones & Mood Enhancing Neurotransmitters

Although like many other aspects of our wellbeing, stress and its effects are best understood by taking a more holistic approach — that is understanding its impact across different aspects of human life, from physical and psychological to social and spiritual, understanding what happens inside our body is a very good starting point. After all everything that happens in all aspects of our life has to a large extent a physical cause or effect. In short, our body, with all its physical and biological processes, is intrinsically connected to our mental, emotional, social and spiritual life. These aspects of our being are all facets of the same thing. Each one of them is a key to understand and hack the others. For instance you can ‘hack’ your physiology through breathing and posture and affect your mental state and mood, or conversely, you can recall a particular happy moment and changes start happening inside your body such as the release of certain neurotransmitters and hormones.

Science has long identified the role of certain hormones that are closely related to stress, Adrenaline and Cortisol being the two main ones. These two hormones have a primary role in affecting our mind and body to respond to a given situation when we perceive danger. Adrenaline is in fact nicknamed the ‘flight or fight’ hormone since it is quickly released by the adrenal glands to respond immediately to what the mind perceives as a threatening situation. Imagine you are walking in a dark alley in a dodgy neighbourhood at night when suddenly someone rushes out of a corner. At that instant your body undergoes a whole series of changes — your muscles get tense, your breathing gets faster and you may start sweating. All this had the evolutionary purpose of survival. When faced with such a perceived threat, the body has to quickly take a decision whether to either run away from the danger or try to muscle through. In extreme situations, the failure to do this might result in losing life and limb. However in less drastic situations such as for instance receiving a call in the middle of the night, the same cascade of bodily reactions will still be triggered.

The same thing can be said of Cortisol which is another stress related hormone (in fact nicknamed the stress hormone) but one which is released more slowly in the body than adrenaline since it goes through a longer chain of messaging inside the brain and autonomic nervous system. It is mainly responsible for regulating fluid and blood pressure, immunity, digestion and growth. In survival mode, the optimal amounts of cortisol can be life saving. The problem with these stress related hormones, particularly cortisol, is the negative effects incurred to the mind and body if sustained for a prolonged period of time. A lot of emphasis and research have been put into this since it is a major factor with problems in health and wellbeing. 


Research and study have found various links between prolonged presence of cortisol in the body and depression [1] since it affects the dopamine and serotonin production levels. More importantly, it has also been observed that continuous release of cortisol can also affect the autoimmune system [2] thus leading to disease and health problems. The point to be taken here by looking at stress from a biochemical perspective is that the imbalance (or the optimal balance) in these hormones and neurotransmitters will have an affect whether a situation is experienced in the body as harmful stress or positive stress. The right amount of stress hormones and neurotransmitters in our body on the other hand are both caused by and affect how we perceive a situation and what is our predisposition to respond to given situations.

Which Activities are more Prone to lead to Eustress?

Strictly speaking any situation can either result in positive stress or unhealthy stress depending on many factors. These factors include the individual’s emotional predispositions, beliefs, past experiences, when and where the situation is happening and whether there is a optimal balance in the stress related hormones as mentioned above. Put simply, stress is very subjective since the same experience can result as a healthy challenge for one person or highly stressful for another. Having said this there are situations which cannot be considered as extreme by any measure and that are normally, and on average, conducive to positive stress or eustress. These would include but not limited to the following:

Working on a challenging project or task:

This is possibly one of the most common situations that can best describe the positive effect of stress. This could be a task or project, say at work, that is demanding — perhaps there are deadlines and targets – and requires that certain obstacles and challenges are overcome. Yet despite, the obstacles and the fact that there is a certain level of uncertainty in the outcome, you feel that you have the resources and the ability to succeed. There is an interim period before the result is achieved that creates a certain amount of stress but this stress is helping you sharpen the focus and increase the stamina because you are already seeing the possibility of succeeding and know that you have at least a certain amount of control over it.

The idea of balance between level of skill, control and difficulty is captured in Positive Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s notion of ‘flow’ (or what otherwise is known as ‘being in the zone’). Csikszentmihalyi idea of being in the flow is when someone is so absorbed and totally focused on the task at hand that he or she loses awareness of the surroundings. The real point of intersection with eustress is that this state of flow happens when the person faces a task that is not too easy or repetitive (this would otherwise be considered dull, boring and feel unmotivated) and neither is it too much above the person’s skills and other resources (as this would easily turn into negative stress or worse). The state of flow is an optimal place in between that challenges the person, getting him slightly under stress yet motivated at the same time knowing that with the right amount of focus and work, the result can be achieved.

Physical exercise or sports

Any form of physical strain or exercise done in moderation and in the right way is a form of eustress. Everyone has felt that sense of physical stress in trying to finish a run or a workout than feeling that satisfying sense of wellbeing afterwards even if the body is physically tired. The stress here is almost entirely physical although the effects can spill through emotional and mental wellbeing. In fact in connection with the neurotransmitter dopamine already mentioned above, regular physical exercise is known to keep a healthy level of dopamine production among other benefits. As pointed to earlier on, the physical, mental and emotional are intrinsically tied together and so the positive and negative effect of stress is also intimately related to any one of these levels.

Doing something thrilling

Watching a thrilling movie or riding a rollercoaster, for example, are activities that are considered to create eustress. Anything that causes a certain amount of thrill and excitement will also subject the mind-body under the right amount of healthy stress. The adrenaline rush when riding the rollercoaster causes a brief moment of stress to the body but this is balanced by the amount of pleasure and excitement coupled with the fact that the risk of danger is perceived to be contained at a minimal. 


Competing

As with doing sports and physical exercise, when people are competing, the mind and body gets totally absorbed in the activity. It goes under a state of flow. Now it has to be understood that different people compete differently, if at all, and some might be over-competitive to a point that is causes harmful stress. Yet once again, the keyword is balance and ‘right amount’.

Wim Hof breathing

This is my favourite form of eustress and I do it at least a couple of times a day. This breathing technique is championed and advocated by extreme athlete Wim Hof popularly known as ‘ice man’. The technique simply involves doing a number of deep and rapid breaths than holding out the final breath for a minute or two before inhaling. This oxygenates the body and brain and overstimulates the nervous systems. It therefore momentarily puts the body under a certain amount of stress but this stress positively affects the body, nervous system, neurotransmitters and auto-immune system in the long run. In fact Hof himself is known to be able to directly affect the autonomic nervous system and auto-immune system and perform extreme feats such as having his body submerged in ice for hours.

The Answer is Within

As already emphasised above, and should also be more clear by now, the line between stress and eustress is very subjective. What is meant by subjective here has a lot to do with how a person perceives and reacts to a given situation. Perception is key and perception is highly influenced by other internal factors such as mental states, emotions and beliefs.

In the case of someone being in the flow while doing a challenging task, for example, there is a certain intrinsic motivation in doing it and thus the stress that the person goes through is experienced as eustress. Intrinsic motivation is an important factor in deciding whether an experience will result in eustress or stress. If on the other hand the person perceives that the task at hand is beyond his skills or abilities or perhaps he has a belief or fear that he is not able to succeed, then chances are that the situation will create stress rather than eustress.

A positive attitude and mindset is also a very important factor deciding whether a given situation will be experienced as eustress or not. Someone who has in general a very positive outlook on life and is not afflicted by negative thought patterns or fears will tend to experience eustress more often than someone who is not. On the other hand, it can be also argued that someone who tends to be more positive on the whole might also have very balanced levels of dopamine and serotonin production since as hinted earlier on, the biological and the mental & emotional are in confluence.

Yet another internal asset that provides a person with the ability of turning a potentially stressful situation into a positive one is self-esteem and self-image. Together with a positive mindset and intrinsic motivation, having good self-esteem is an important key in experiencing eustress more often. Imagine a common situation where someone is job hunting but for some time he or she has been having a long series of turndowns. Two or three months have passed and no job yet. The clock is ticking and the mental fortitude and attitude is the only real thing that will define how a person will react to the situation. Someone with low self esteem or who tends to be negative will start feeling withdrawn, defeated or just give up, if that is ever an option. Someone with more self esteem and a more positive take on life might start taking it as a hard yet beautiful challenge. He or she rolls up the sleeves and starts pushing harder on it, perhaps revising the strategy, learning new skills, or start seeking a new career path. Yes there might be moments where stress will get to you but for most part of the journey, someone with those internal assets will tend to experience positive stress that on hindsight, once the challenge is over, will be seen as another life lesson learnt, a feather in the cap or a good success story that will help motivation and self-esteem further in the future.

 

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Gilbert Ross

Gilbert has been writing about personal growth topics for a number of years on his blog SoulHiker and on various other media.

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17 Comments on "Eustress: Meeting the Positive Side of Stress"

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Robina fazal
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Really amazing ,meaningful…Scientificaly..Psychologicaly …v.potent..v.impressing and useful article.. Specially for a person’s like us as who faced are facing 《Èu Stress 》Both negative and positive..as I am a genetic bipolar..and diabetic since my birth…I am still under the treatment of an sicatrist and taking one pill for diabities as type 2 diabetic.. Through out my life I worked v.hard..did a lot physical ,spiritual,metal..exercises yoga and meditations to cope up my life in better ways..So 8 can have my resistance..energy more to cope with my activities and to cope my house hold responsibilities.. As I kept in touch in my life with family members from both my Mother side and father sides ..Who have physical ailments..mental ailments..weaknesses and sever and sensitive illnesses.. So I makes me more strong for running my life with Health.. happiness .Zeal and Zest…I took at times sessions with psychologists.. kept in touch with my Sicatrist..took mood stabilizers and tranqulizers for about 20 years…that have me really therepatic treatment and powers to have better control over myself and to treat all well..Specialy those who are still Sufffering from painful diseases they need my support and care at times..but from last 12 years I decided to lead my life with out medicines and used my best of capacities to with therapies by myownself ..by spiritual sessions with God Almighty…by soul easing yoga exercises..music and dances ..and more and more productive works by getting my mind more busy and captivate.. ..know by the grace of God Almighty.. as I took my ailments as a challenge to lead a healthy life for myself and for all..from 8 years I am on still one light mood stabilizer and one light tranquilizer.. as my life lead in sacrifices and caring all..mostly I can’t still focus totally on my life ..to achieve my desires and goals to make the most out of my life and to work for people in distress and worries and panics.. I can’t at once quit my medication but I take life as a challenge to lead a healthy and happy productive life ..hope my medication will be cut down up to God Almighty I am trying my best..I am really thankful to Sir Bryant McGill…Mam Jenni and all Royals who love care and respect me and their pure love care and support.. always provoking a new life in my me to be more better balanced happy and useful person for my self and for all Humanity.. Love you all Royals.. 💖👑💐👍Thanks a lot Sir Gilbert Ross for Such a beautiful useful..article for all..So they can Understand well their Ailments…and Understand the meaning of Eu Stress negative impulses and positives impulses to improve their lives..and to become useful for themselves and for all…thanks to Go McGill media of introduce you to us who didn’t know about you ..and for making Space to introduce to us with intellectuals..highly qualified people..experienced and real Soul and mind uplifting people who can make life really better for all..Specially for sensitive people in pain and worry…..Thanks 💖👑💐👍God bless..

Suzan
Guest
Suzan

Very good article about stress ,actually I didn’t not know before that their is a positive side to stress called eustress ,it is true that small amount of stress that keeps us active,awake ,motivated when we meet new challenge or difficult task is important to sharpen our minds ,skills and also increase self esteem when the challenge successfully end and to be added to life experience , usually the people who are very sensitive suffer from stress more than others ,to reduce negative stress I usually use many ways like : physical excersice,listening to music ,reading ,shopping,using intrent and social media ,meditation
and any physical activities like : cleaning ,cooking ,take care of garden .

Heidi
Guest
Heidi

Thanks for the artical and I am happy to join in today. Being on social media is common for a lot of people today. My latest favourite way to combat stress of dealing with all the info overload is to go outside in the garden, shift the focus from my head to my feet and walk barefoot in the dew on the grass~Its lovely, and hearing birds singing, good too.

Parisima Pakzad
Guest
Parisima Pakzad

Very meaningful article.
Absolutely agreed about the positive side of stress nicknamed EUSTRESS.
It’s very imperative to balance between physical emotional and spiritual sides when we are out of comfort zones.
I have learned a lot by reading through this scientific article how to prepare myself when I meet new challenges etc.

Vasudevan Bhattathir
Member

I am not aware of the positive side of stress .this article has opened a new knowledge to me. this is very good article. which an idea new most of us .I have noticed that in stress situations some good solutions are coming in the mind sometimes
thank you for coming out with a nice article like this

Lalie Nieto
Member

First time to hear this term Euro Stress although I am aware that there is positive and negative stress. One’s attitude/coping mechanism towards a stressful situation can determine how it will impact you as a whole. Prayers, positive thoughts and affirmations are very helpful. When you start saying positive affirmations like “I am caĺm, at Peace, relax” etc, you eventually start to feel the effects on all levels.
Have a stress free day Gilbert, Bryant and Jenni

Shirley
Guest
Shirley

I like to use tipping as a way of distress and deep breathing. Nice read tk you

michelle
Guest
michelle

wow i really needed to hear this my heart torn from lies by all public bodies who shouldnt be lieing but did to make made family look like monsters and unfit for anyone and to cover up the lack of help though domestic abase they just lifted us in and again when my son was kidnapped yeah i have lawyers working on my behalf but we were treated like pure evil by these people which has stole so much from us but ill bounce back because were better than that were better than these wrong people who claimed to help and did really needed to read this as i found it very helpful ill definitely be trying the ice man tool think i need that thank you for sharing its much appreciated

Kara
Member

I love this I got to expirience one it was Amazing! I learned about then The instuctor of the Class prepared one for us to walk…it was very peacful and calmimg.

Kimberly Lentz
Guest
Kimberly Lentz

There is a stress reliever you can do. If you sit in a chair with arms down to side & hands in lap. Feet straight down on floor with shoes off. Make sure room is either quiet and free of distractions or play soft music.

To start ypu will curl toes downward on one foot at a time. Hold toes down squeezing them to a count of 10 slowly. Release slowly. Concentrate on the tightening & releasing slowly. After the toes, slowly tighten & release one foot at a time. Concentrate again tightening & releasing. Tighten & release calves one at a time. Concentrate while doing this. Then do the fingers, hands arms, thighs, butt, stomach, chest, shoulders, back, neck, face, & last top of head. It all can be done. Concentrate! By the time you do all, areas, concentrate on slowly tightening & releasing, counting in your head. You will be very relaxed & destressed.

Lawney
Member

Great info. It is so important to become aware of good stress and bad stress and how it works on the brain. I love reading about this. This gives hope for peoples depression.

Gail Liming
Guest
Gail Liming

I find good stress to have its advantages in that more motivation and determination is utilized. More solutions are arrived at, and sometimes its coupled with more stress to where the end result ends up having greater satisfaction with the outcome. High excitability I’ve experienced too, to where the blood pressure soars and the end result is nothing but fatigue and a sense of failure. I’ve been in both situations during my lifetime. As stated in your article the secret is balancing good and bad stress.

Sherryramlogan
Member

Afternoon everyone…what an interesting topic and it shows it all up to us.. as the individual to make things happen….thank you…

Tiffany Newsome
Guest
Tiffany Newsome

Great and useful article!

Karen
Guest
Karen

When ever I’m stressed I tend to run a hot bath light candles put some calming music on an meditate an try an forget what’s stressing me out

Linda
Guest
Linda

Sorry 😐 I had a very bad day today. Hurting from my head to my toes. Fibromyalgia flare. Not good at all.