Table of Contents
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 survival1.
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.
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 state2.
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 state3.
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:
- 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 abilities4.
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 people5.
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 disturbance6.
Eustress can start an adaptation process and increase one’s adaptive capabilities. It helps an individual to achieve challenging goals7. Eustress is associated with positive emotions8, optimism9, self-determination10 and hope11. The positive psychological state caused by stress is also a significant predictor of life satisfaction and health12.
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