Most of us consider stress to be a bad thing. When we hear about it, it’s normally in a negative context where we speak about just how damaging it is for our health or for our happiness. And it’s true for the most part too: the majority of us are far too stressed on a regular basis which contributes to poor sleep, bad moods, more regular illness, unhealthy weight loss/gain and more.
But to say that all stress is bad would actually be a mistake. The type of stress that most of us consider to be a negative thing is called ‘distress’. That’s the stress that we get from being ill, from having too much to do at work, or from being in an argument with our romantic partner. On the other hand though, there is also eustress which is a form of stress that’s actually considered good for us…
What Is Eustress?
Have you ever heard the expression ‘that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’? It comes from Friedrich Nietzsche and essentially means that even negative experiences have value in that they teach you important lessons, prepare you for the harsher aspects of life and ultimately make you stronger.
Now this is only true to some extent some of the time. If you get ill, then you may feel stronger mentally, but you will probably not feel any stronger physically. Although you may have progressed, you’d probably still be better overall had it never happened.
But when it is true, that’s the kind of stress we call eustress.
Examples of Eustress
An example of eustress then is the physical stress of being underneath a barbell. Here the weight is placing considerable stress on your body and causing you to strain. It could even lead to injury. However what it will also do is to build your muscles to the point where you will become stronger and where next time you will be able to lift more.
Similarly, stress in some cases has been shown to be a very positive motivator. Students who are studying for exams for instance will perform better according to studies if they are somewhat stressed about those exams. Being too stressed is no good and will lead to a decrease in performance, but likewise if you aren’t stressed at all then you won’t be as motivated to work hard or revise and you won’t be as focussed in the exam.
An athlete can also benefit from a little eustress while playing sports – as the feeling of being stressed will often make them quicker to react thanks to the effects that adrenaline has on attention and reaction time.
In a relationship a little bit of stress can help to keep things exciting, and can encourage you to look at the problems in that relationship and thus to find solutions that make you both happier in the long run. Eustress can even help you to relax in the evenings – as the stress during the day provides a nice comparison to help you appreciate the chance to sit down.
A little stress on your immune system will encourage it to strengthen its defences (which is how vaccines work and why taking a cold shower can be good for you) and there are countless other examples. In short, while you should strive to decrease stress in your life you should never completely aim to remove it. Stress is one of the things that will encourage you to keep improving yourself, to keep getting stronger and fitter, and to go after the things you want in life. The trick is in finding that perfect balance.