Generally when we talk about being “stressed”, we mean that we’re feeling overwhelmed and anxious. However, we all need a certain level of stimulation and challenge in order to feel fulfilled, and this crucial amount of stress is termed eustress.
Defined by the endocrinologist Hals Selye, eustress refers to “good stress”, or responding to a stressor as if it were a growth-enhancing opportunity, rather than as something to be feared, resisted, denied, or avoided. Of course, the chances of our viewing something as eustress have a lot to do with when and how the stressor occurs, as well as how much control we think we have over the situation and how welcome we view the stressor to be.
For instance, if we’re at the airport waiting to board a plane, with our destination being an eagerly anticipated vacation in Hawaii, we’re liable to be upset if our plane is delayed, especially if no other flights are available in the foreseeable future.
However, if we’re on the way to a business meeting that we’re dreading, or if we’re able to hop another flight within an hour or two, the news of a delayed flight is less likely to upset us. In addition, if we have a good book to read or view our extended stay in the airport terminal as a chance to hang out with a friend and chat, we might even consider the change in plans as a positive turn of events.
Some examples of eustress include:
- rising to a challenge
- a physical workout (jogging, lifting weights, hiking)
- attending (or participating in) a sports competition
- riding a roller coaster
- watching a scary movie
In general, positive stress (eustress) is:
- productive and helpful to one’s overall objectives
- pleasurable (possibly after some initial resistance)
- beneficial to one’s physical and mental well-being
In contrast, negative stress usually:
- drains one’s energy
- damages one’s physical and mental states (especially if experienced over a long period of time)
- leads to or exacerbates emotional depression or anxiety
- impairs one’s immune system (leading either to immune deficiencies or heightened allergic or auto-immune states)
- gets worse over time
Stress is inevitable. Nobody can avoid experiencing stress. In fact, we wouldn’t want to – life would be boring without challenges. The trick is to maintain an optimal balance between insufficient and excessive stimulation – and to remember that this ideal level will shift from day to day.
Some hints for effective stress management:
Practice some form of meditation or other relaxation technique. Figure out what works best for you. Some people prefer the classic seated meditation technique (eyes closed), while others find yoga, a mindful walk, or even a good jog to work best for them. The point is to temporarily take a mental break from your life and restore your emotional, mental, and physical balance. Meditation tends to work best if engaged in more frequently and for shorter periods of time (such as almost every day, for five to ten minutes) rather than less frequently (i.e., one hour, one day a week).
Consider your general perspective on life. Your mindset has a powerful effect on your stress level.
- Do you worry a lot?
- Do you assume the worst?
- Do you see the cup as half-full or half-empty?
- Do you tend to live in “what if” land rather than accepting “what is”?
- Are you extremely critical?
- Are you a perfectionist, where nothing is ever “good enough”?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, the good news is that altering your attitude will go a long way toward reducing your stress level.
Adopt a good nutrition plan and get physically active. No one food plan will work well for everyone, but you owe it to yourself to consult a health professional and set up a food regime to address your individual dietary needs. In addition, getting at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day (based on your doctor’s recommendations) will help to optimize your immune system, enhance your mood, and improve your sleep (without which your stress level is likely to skyrocket).
Communicate your feelings and needs. Let other people in on what’s going on with you. This allows you a chance to vent and offers others the opportunity to connect with you and possibly help. While it generally isn’t healthy in the long run for others to carry the ball for you, we all need help at times – and we thrive when we’re in healthy relationships. In addition, talking with others can assist you in putting your problems into proper perspective.
Balance your wants and shoulds. There will always be those obligatory activities in life that are less than thrilling but do need to tended to. It’s easier to attack the mundane components of our existence when we also have things to look forward to. So, get back in touch with what really excites you and include these in your life on a regular basis. Have you laughed lately? If not, make sure to do something about that as soon as possible!
Set goals. Having a sense of purpose is key to channeling our energy in productive directions. When we’re feeling an undue amount of stress, it’s generally more helpful to focus on our desires rather than our fears – in other words, what we want to move toward rather than on what we want to avoid. Make sure that:
- your goals are within the realm of possibility (even if they’re somewhat of a stretch for you).
- you have what you need (or can get what you need) to successfully meet your goals.
- you break your goals down into small, manageable steps. Focus on the next indicated step rather than being overwhelmed by a seemingly monumental task.
- you reevaluate your goals periodically. As you pursue your goals, new information will come to light, which will stand you in better stead to adjust your goals accordingly. However, if a goal is truly dear to your heart, do not give up if the road gets rocky. Keeping your attention on what really matters to you, and acknowledging your progress, will go a long way toward your maintaining an ideal level of enthusiasm and relaxation in your life.