Is all stress bad? Is there such a thing as “good” stress? Learn about eustress, what it is, what causes it, and how to use it.
Stress is an unavoidable part of life. Whether we are starting a new job, studying for that big test, or even going on a first date we all go through a process of mixed emotions including nervousness and anxiety. However, not all stress is the same. Some stress is extremely detrimental to your mental health and overall well-being, while some stress can be considered healthy. That’s what eustress is – positive stress, stress that can motivate us and help us focus on the task at hand.
Most of us are familiar with this negative stress, commonly known as distress. Some of the ways distress can make you feel include:
Being overwhelmed and not feeling like you can catch a break
Being overly anxious and unsure of yourself
Deep sadness and depression
Distress is caused when you feel that your stress and its source are not within your control or something that you are not able to change. When stress becomes too chronic or too frequent, it can lead to a feeling of helplessness. This helplessness then leads to obsessive worrying and general sadness and depression (Szabo et al., 2017).
Examples of Eustress
Eustress usually includes experiences related to feelings of challenge and excitement – stressful times that ultimately lead to positive experiences.
A few examples include:
Starting a new romantic relationship
Starting a new job
Buying a home
Traveling somewhere new and unfamiliar
Going on holiday or vacation
Learning a new hobby
Eustress doesn’t have to come from a giant life change - even smaller moments can produce positive stress including:
Cooking a new meal
Riding a roller coaster
Playing a challenging video game
These are all activities that push our boundaries while still being enjoyable. The ability to control this fight-or-flight tendency can manifest this energy into something positive. Eustress can be caused by positive forms of social engagement – this includes support from your community and access to resources (Suedfeld, 1997). During eustress, there is also a release of the hormone oxytocin – commonly known as the love hormone – that can push people to seek or provide help (Takayanagi & Onaka, 2021).
Altogether, eustress drives us to stay motivated, work towards our goals, and feel overall good about life. Good stress can also help us grow in a variety of ways. Psychologists have shown that eustress can empower you to grow in different areas (Brule & Morgan, 2018):
Emotionally and mentally. This can result in positive feelings of contentment, inspiration, motivation, and flow - a focused state of being when one is completely immersed in an activity as well as logical and clear thinking (Csikszentmihalyi, 2002). Think of it as a situation where you found yourself losing time when working.
Psychologically. Eustress can help build our self-efficacy and our sense of autonomy and increase our resilience to stressors. For instance, after a big breakup, it’s normal to feel incredibly sad about it. However, in time and with eustress we can later reflect on the breakup as an opportunity for change and growth.
Physically. Eustress can induce a decrease in inflammation, improve heart health, and increase our overall endurance (Aschbacher & Mason, 2020).
It’s only natural to not like stress. However, it’s important to keep in mind that not all types of stress are harmful. In fact, eustress comes with many benefits such as rewarding feelings that encourage personal growth in the long run. It’s even possible that eustress can improve physical health as well.
Aschbacher, K., & Mason, A. E. (2020). Eustress, distress, and oxidative stress: Promising pathways for mind-body medicine. In Oxidative Stress (pp. 583-617). Academic Press.
Brulé, G., & Morgan, R. (2018). Working with stress: Can we turn distress into eustress. Journal of Neuropsychology & Stress Management, 3(4), 1-3.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). Flow: The psychology of happiness: The classic work on how to achieve happiness. London, UK: Rider
Suedfeld, P. (1997). Reactions to societal trauma: Distress and/or eustress. Political Psychology, 18(4), 849-861.
Szabo, S., Yoshida, M., Filakovszky, J., & Juhasz, G. (2017). "Stress" is 80 Years Old: From Hans Selye Original Paper in 1936 to Recent Advances in GI Ulceration. Current pharmaceutical design, 23(27), 4029–4041.
Takayanagi, Y., & Onaka, T. (2021). Roles of Oxytocin in Stress Responses, Allostasis and Resilience. International journal of molecular sciences, 23(1), 150.