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Eustress vs Distress – The Differences, Examples & Impacts

What Is Stress

Stress is the body’s physiological response to stressors that create taxing demands and knock us out of balance. A stressor can be a change, threat, or pressure from either outside of the body or within.

Stress is necessary for better survival​1​. Many thousands of years ago, people needed this body’s response to stay alive and fight off threats.

This fight-or-flight response accelerates heart beating, blood pressure rate and breathing, inhibits digestion, and increases blood sugar levels to provide muscle with energy and our mind with focus. This sequence of changes allows us to fight or run away from danger in stressful situations.

In today’s world, most kinds of stress we experience is from within ourselves. They are mental stresses.

When we perceive a threat, such as an upcoming exam or excessive job demands, we begin to feel stressed.

mom is stressed due to chaotic home with kids

Definition

Stress is an inevitable part of life,. The good news is that not all stress is bad. There are two main types of stress – positive stress and negative stress.

Eustress – Positive Stress

The helpful, pleasant and positive stress is called eustress.

Having eustress is not a bad thing. This positive form of stress evokes positive feelings when the stressor is interpreted as opportunities or challenges that one can successfully overcome by mobilizing coping skills.

This good stress is associated with positive effects such as a positive psychological and a healthy physical state​2​.

Distress – Negative Stress

Distress is destructive, unpleasant and negative type of stress.

Distress evokes negative feelings when the stressor is interpreted as sources of harm or threat that one cannot overcome. Distress is associated with a negative emotional health and an impaired physical state​3​.

Today, the word “stress” is almost synonymous with distress. We use either one to describe stressful events or talk about daily life stressors.

Eustress vs Distress Examples

It is hard to categorize stressors into objective lists of positive or negative stressors because different people have different reactions to the same stressor.

The following are some common events that can induce stress and how most people interpret them.

Examples of Eustress

Eustress, a positive stress, is related to pleasant situations or occurrences. Here is a list of stressors that typical produces positive experiences. They are examples of eustress.

  • Marriage
  • Buying a home
  • Giving birth
  • Starting a new job
  • Visiting new places
  • Giving a presentation
  • Getting promoted at work
  • Receiving awards
  • Reuniting with old friends
  • Starting a business
  • Learning a new hobby
  • Going on an adventure
  • Making new friends

Examples of Distress

Distress, negative stress, is related to unpleasant situations or future events. Here are some examples of distress. They are the types of stressors that generate negative experiences.

  • Being bullied
  • Getting a divorce with a spouse
  • Breaking up
  • Problems with interpersonal relationships
  • Having conflicts with teammates
  • Death of a parent or loved one
  • Not meeting a deadline
  • Parents fighting
  • Fighting with a friend or family member
  • Financial problems
  • Going into bankruptcy
  • Getting fired from job
  • Facing natural disasters
  • Severe health problems
  • Being sued for wrongdoing
  • Being assaulted or abused
  • Waiting for medical test results
  • Worrying about job restructuring or employment concerns

Factors Causing Distress vs Eustress

The experience of stress and the results are largely determined by how one evaluates the negative situations.

Whether a situation will cause eustress or distress depends on our subjective interpretation of its characteristics, including its intensity, source, duration, controllability and desirability, as well as whether we perceive it as within our coping abilities​4​.

The same event can be interpreted in different ways by different people​5​.

For example, giving a presentation in front of the entire class generates eustress for a student if they view it as a great opportunity to show the class their work. The student believes they are well-prepared, and the presentation is quick. This student perceives this situation as desirable and not-lasting. Most important, they believe they can handle it.

However, if a student is are afraid of public speaking and is unable to avoid it, this becomes a distress. They feel that their project is not well done and they may make mistakes during the presentation, leaving a lasting poor impression on their classmates. This student perceives this as uncontrollable, undesirable and long lasting, and believes they cannot deal with it effectively.

Differences Between Eustress And Distress

Stress, both eustress and distress, occurs when stressor demands exceed our perceived ability to handle those demands.

When a stressor triggers the stress response, which can be a positive or negative arousal, our body tries to adapt and bring us back to our normal state in order to protect itself from harm.

The difference between eustress and distress lies in the way the body adapts to an unfavorable condition.

Beneficial Impacts of Eustress

Eustress can result in healthy, constructive outcomes.

People experiencing eustress are in a state of mindful challenge, exhibiting heightened attention to the task at hand. The person is in “the flow”. When people enter the state of flow, they become immersed in the experience that enhances their health and wellbeing.

Experience of eustress can trigger a process of adaptation, allowing people to improve their adaptive abilities. It helps an individual achieve challenging goals​6​ and better performance. It also helps buffer the negative impact of distress when it occurs.

Eustress is generally associated with positive emotions​7​, optimism​8​, self-determination​9​ and hope​10​. The positive psychological state caused by stress is also a significant predictor of life satisfaction and health​11​.

Negative Effects Of Distress

Excess distress not only decrease a person’s performance at school or at work, but it can also have many adverse effects on the human brain and body​12​.

Chronic stress is especially damaging. It can cause atrophy of the brain, decrease its size, and lead to structural changes affecting the brain’s stress response, thoughts and memory​13​.

Bad stress decreases one’s adaptive capabilities, triggering or aggravating mental and physical health problems. It can also impair immune system​14​, leaving the person more vulnerable to illness and mood disturbance​15​. Distress has been linked to cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, inflammatory diseases, irritable bowel syndrome and even sudden death​16​.

nurse smiles at patient in bed

How To Turn Distress Into Eustress

Stress is an inevitable part of daily lives. Fortunately, not all stress is distress. Some distress can be turned into eustress if the particular situations are viewed as challenges rather than hindrances​17​.

Eustress can develop if engagement, positive emotions and hope are fostered.

For example, in hospitals, nurses who experience hope, positivity, and meaningfulness have better mental health and wellness than nurses with negative emotions​11​.

To have hope means to believe that one has both the will and the means to achieve their goals. By relying on supportive networks, adopting a positive and optimistic perspective, and finding meaningfulness, distressing conditions can be turned into positive energies​18​.


References

  1. 1.
    Selye H. Stress. Acta; 1950.
  2. 2.
    Lazarus RS. From Psychological Stress to the Emotions: A History of Changing Outlooks. Annu Rev Psychol. Published online January 1993:1-22. doi:10.1146/annurev.ps.44.020193.000245
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    Little LM, Simmons BL, Nelson DL. Health Among Leaders: Positive and Negative Affect, Engagement and Burnout, Forgiveness and Revenge. J Management Studies. Published online March 2007:243-260. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6486.2007.00687.x
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    Matthieu MM, Ivanoff A. Using Stress, Appraisal, and Coping Theories in Clinical Practice: Assessments of Coping Strategies After Disasters. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention. Published online November 2006:337-348. doi:10.1093/brief-treatment/mhl009
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    Deci EL, Ryan RM. Self-Determination Theory. In: Handbook of Theories of Social Psychology: Volume 1. SAGE Publications Ltd; :416-437. doi:10.4135/9781446249215.n21
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    Snyder CR ed. Handbook of Hope: Theory, Measures, and Applications. Academic press; 2000.
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    Simmons BL, Nelson DL. Eustress at Work: The Relationship between Hope and Health in Hospital Nurses. Health Care Management Review. Published online October 2001:7-18. doi:10.1097/00004010-200110000-00002
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    Yaribeygi H, Panahi Y, Sahraei H, Johnston TP, Sahebkar A. The impact of stress on body function: a review. EXCLI Journal; 16:Doc1057; ISSN 1611-2156. Published online 2017. doi:10.17179/EXCLI2017-480
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    Lupien SJ, McEwen BS, Gunnar MR, Heim C. Effects of stress throughout the lifespan on the brain, behaviour and cognition. Nat Rev Neurosci. Published online April 29, 2009:434-445. doi:10.1038/nrn2639
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    Khansari DN, Murgo AJ, Faith RE. Effects of stress on the immune system. Immunology Today. Published online January 1990:170-175. doi:10.1016/0167-5699(90)90069-l
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    DeLongis A, Folkman S, Lazarus RS. The impact of daily stress on health and mood: Psychological and social resources as mediators. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Published online 1988:486-495. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.54.3.486
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    ENGEL GL. Psychologic Stress, Vasodepressor (Vasovagal) Syncope, and Sudden Death. Ann Intern Med. Published online September 1, 1978:403. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-89-3-403
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    Hargrove MB, Nelson DL, Cooper CL. Generating eustress by challenging employees. Organizational Dynamics. Published online January 2013:61-69. doi:10.1016/j.orgdyn.2012.12.008
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    Gibbons C, Dempster M, Moutray M. Stress and eustress in nursing students. Journal of Advanced Nursing. Published online January 9, 2008:282-290. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2007.04497.x

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