April 01, 2020 at 03:10AM
The narrative around stress is often about how harmful it can be for mental and physical health. While that’s true, in some cases stress can have a neutral—and even positive—effect on our overall well-being. This type of “good” stress is often referred to as eustress. Here’s what you need to know about how eustress affects the body and how to differentiate it from other, more sinister forms of stress.
What is eustress?
“Eustress can be thought of as positive stress,” explains Lindsey Pratt, LMHC, an NYC-based psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety, depression, mindfulness, and trauma. “It typically occurs when we are reaching toward something we have not yet achieved, coupled with the mindset of, ‘I can get there, this challenge feels exciting to me,’ rather than ‘I’m falling short, this challenge feels scary to me.'”
Working for a big promotion at work or getting ready to take an exam you’ve prepared extremely well for are two examples that can lead to eustress. “With eustress, the stressor involved is going to lead to increased feelings of happiness and pride,” echoes Amber Trueblood, MFT, a marriage and family therapist based in San Diego, California. “You feel energized from it rather than depleted,”
How can stress ever be a good thing?
Eustress can be a major motivating factor that pushes you to reach a goal that you’re excited about. “Feelings of exhilaration or heightened momentum are often key components of experiencing eustress,” says Pratt. “These feelings can help propel a person toward their goal and bridge the gap between what is currently and what can be.”
Eustress is similar to exercise in that it can also help build your “stress endurance,” so to speak. “By having your body practice psychological stress, you will have more ability to focus and remain calm during stressful times in the future,” says Trueblood.
How to tell if your stress is positive and productive.
The next time you’re experiencing stress, pay attention to what it really feels like in the body. “Stress and anxiety typically have a darker feel to them than eustress, and this may manifest in both body and mind,” says Pratt. “Anxious symptoms may include a racing heart, gastrointestinal problems, lack of sleep, and an inability to control one’s thoughts.”
On the other hand, eustress feels more like energy and motivation moving through the body. It might lead to more creative thoughts or nudge you to naturally wake up earlier to start the day without feelings of dread or anxiety.
But even eustress can become a problem if you have too much of it. It’s important to give yourself occasional mental breaks so it doesn’t transform into chronic stress or anxiety over time. “If you’re under a huge amount of [any type of] stress and it’s unrelenting, then you’re going to have psychological and emotional damage as a result,” says Trueblood. “It’s important to purposely give yourself breaks and distractions—like phoning a friend or going for a run—so that the stress stays at an intermittent level and doesn’t creep up into higher, chronic types of stress.”
How to tip the scales toward eustress.
In addition to giving your brain a break, here are some other strategies that can help you maintain a state of eustress and keep unproductive stress at bay:
1. Be mindful of whom you surround yourself with.
Trueblood says to limit who and what you are exposed to—this includes people with negative or hostile thoughts as well as what you’re scrolling through on social media. Making it a point to weed out negativity will keep your head in a strong, positive place.
Physical activity releases endorphins in the body and pumps more oxygen into the brain, which can help manage anxiety and depression.
3. Try a hemp supplement.*
4. Eat a healthy diet.
“Eating a lot of sugar or increasing your alcohol intake will lead to your body not being able to tolerate psychological stressors,” says Trueblood. Opt for whole, unprocessed foods when you can instead.
5. Get outside.
Spending time in nature can have a huge impact on your overall stress levels, says Trueblood. Research has found that taking a walk in the woods can lower cortisol levels, decrease heart rate, and soften the fight-or-flight response.
Stress seems to always have a negative connotation, but it is possible to use it as a tool to fuel productivity and boost your health.