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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 e a change, threat, or pressure from outside of the body or within.

Stress is necessary for our survival​1​.

Many thousands of years ago, people needed this response to stay alive and fight off threats. The fight-or-flight stress reaction accelerates heart 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 today’s world, most of the stress we experience is mental stress. 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, but not all stress is bad. There are two types of stress – positive stress and negative stress.

Positive Stress – Eustress

The helpful, pleasant and positive stress is called eustress

Eustress evokes positive feelings when the stressor is interpreted as opportunities or challenges that one can successfully overcome by mobilizing and employing coping skills. Eustress is associated with a positive psychological state and a healthy physical state​2​.

Negative Stress – Distress

Distress is destructive, unpleasant and negative 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 mental health and an impaired physical state​3​.

Nowadays, stress and distress are almost synonyms. We usually use the term stress to describe negative situations 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 people have different reactions to the same stressors. But here are some examples of common eustress and distress.

Examples of Eustress

Eustress, a positive stress, is related to pleasant situations or occurrences.

Examples of positive personal stressors are:

  • Marriage
  • Buying a home
  • Giving birth
  • Starting a new job
  • 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.

Examples of negative personal stressors are:

  • Being bullied
  • Breaking up or getting a divorce with a spouse
  • Death of a loved one
  • Not meeting a deadline
  • Fighting with a friend or family member
  • 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

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 experience of stress and the results are largely determined by how one evaluates a situation. The same event can be interpreted as eustress or distress 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, and believes they can handle it.

However, another student may perceive it as a distress if they are afraid of public speaking, but they have no choice. 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.

Different Impacts Of Eustress vs 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 potential harm.

Eustress and distress differ in the way the body adapts to an unfavorable physiological condition.

Distress usually causes non-adaptive results. It can decrease one’s adaptive capabilities and cause mental and physical problems. Individuals who cannot cope with distress are more vulnerable to illness and mood disturbance​6​.

Eustress can start an adaptation process and increase one’s adaptive capabilities. It helps an individual to achieve challenging goals​7​. Eustress is associated with positive emotions​8​, optimism​9​, self-determination​10​ and hope​11​. The positive psychological state caused by stress is also a significant predictor of life satisfaction and health​12​.


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
  3. 3.
    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
  4. 4.
    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
  5. 5.
    Lazarus RS, Folkman S. Stress, Appraisal, and Coping. Springer publishing company; 1984.
  6. 6.
    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
  7. 7.
    Kupriyanov R, Zhdanov R. The eustress concept: problems and outlooks. World Journal of Medical Sciences. 2014;11(2):179-185. doi:10.5829/idosi.wjms.2014.11.2.8433
  8. 8.
    Folkman S, Moskowitz JT. Positive affect and the other side of coping. American Psychologist. Published online 2000:647-654. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.55.6.647
  9. 9.
    Peterson C. The future of optimism. American Psychologist. Published online 2000:44-55. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.55.1.44
  10. 10.
    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
  11. 11.
    Snyder CR ed. Handbook of Hope: Theory, Measures, and Applications. Academic press; 2000.
  12. 12.
    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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