Stress is commonly known as a destructive thing. Stress, that feeling of emotional and physical tension we often experience that tends to make us feel angry, frustrated, sad, or nervous can potentially harm our health. Over time, constant exposure to stress can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, insomnia, headaches, obesity, depression, and diabetes.
People often see stress as something exclusively negative. The reality is, however, that we experience stress in many shapes and forms and for different reasons. It’s completely natural – everyone feels stressed from time to time. Work piling up, family dramas, busy schedules, and everyday responsibilities can all contribute to our feelings of stress.
Yet, mental health professionals have recently realized that feeling a little bit of stress every now and then can actually be… a good thing! Researchers and psychologists have distinguished between two types of stress – distress and eustress. While distress represents a negative feeling, eustress is actually a good, positive kind of stress.
Distinguishing Between Good and Bad Stress
Don’t get the wrong idea, the statement we often hear ‘stress kills’ is actually very true. Long and prolonged stress is known to be a leading cause of depression, anxiety, and heartburn. Chronic stress, which refers to the prolonged feelings of stress that can harm your health, can have terrible consequences for your body – and usually requires medical treatment.
Although it’s always a good idea to prevent stress from happening in the first place by leading a healthy and active lifestyle, feeling stress in small doses can actually elicit some positive effects in your body.
Starting a new job, for instance, creates a positive kind of stress. It stimulates the body to perform and prove its potential. Similarly, in fight or flight situations, the body elicits the kind of stress that will help you avoid any type of danger – it’s the way your body protects itself.
Stress that can be managed and that doesn’t cause any type of harm is actually a good thing. Eustress, the good kind of stress, has certain benefits to your body that can actually improve your mental and physical functioning.
The following are some of the benefits we feel when we experience the good type of stress.
Stress is a Sign That You Are Living a Meaningful Life
Feelings of stress often mean that you are being challenged in some shape or form. It’s a sign that you are pushing yourself outside the boundaries of your own comfort zone.
Think about the things that make you feel the proudest of yourself. Completing a meaningful project, volunteering, getting into your university of choice, being accepted to your dream internship program, landing a great job opportunity, or starting your own family – all of which takes time, effort, perseverance, and… well, stress. In some way, the stress you felt while going through that process or navigating those uncertainties make your accomplishments even more special.
Those moderate levels of stress you feel when pushing yourself to achieve your goals are actually a good feeling. It keeps you alert and encourages you to keep going. Keep in mind, if it were easy, anyone would do it. Achievements are special because of the challenges that we had to overcome to accomplish them. The stress during the process ends up making the victory even sweeter.
Navigating Stress Builds Resilience
Remember, stress arises because of the challenges we face. On a professional level, stress might be a signal of a challenging deadline at work, coping with a new manager, or deciding whether to change jobs. On a personal level, it might be having issues with family members, having a tough conversation with a friend, or coping with the mental health issues surrounding the pandemic.
Whatever it is, stress forces us to navigate unknown waters, which at times can feel overwhelming. Yet, that stress we feel in those moments can also fuel our ability to problem-solve and build out our confidence for when we encounter similar situations in the future. This increase in confidence and resilience can become a source of motivation so that, when trouble or uncertainty arises again, we have the courage to channel that stress into positive energy to face rather than avoid those challenges.
Stress Can Enhance Your Motivation
With extreme levels of stress, there are no doubts that we will end up feeling anxious, demotivated, and that our immune system will be negatively impacted. Yet, small to moderate levels of stress can actually give you the push you were so desperately needing to kickstart your day or tackle your to-do list.
The next time you have a college assignment or a task at work, try to force yourself to put a deadline to it. Having a deadline will enable you to focus and be more cautious about the way you are investing your time. If you are not using your time wisely, researchers have found that your body will trigger that fight-or-flight response that can more often than not, set you back on track!
Best of All, Stress Can Enrich Our Relationships
You might find this surprising, but among the most unexpected benefits of feeling low and moderate levels of stress is the fact that it can fuel our ability to build meaningful relationships.
Building wholehearted relationships is the key to a happy life. Building strong relationships is the best thing you can do in life: it will boost your immune system, keep you active, increase your happiness, reduce your risk of depression, and bring joy to your life. The social connections we built are, undoubtedly, what will determine how fulfilling your life is going to be.
When feeling stressed, support groups, for instance, can be a great place to share that feeling with others that have gone through similar situations. Pushing ourselves to share what we are feeling rather than keeping it all locked in within ourselves can help us both validate our feelings and build compassion – transforming that negative feeling into a positivity.
Think about the strongest relationship you’ve built – whether it’s with a family member or a loved one. What made those relationships special most likely where how you’ve supported each other when you had to overcome stormy, cloudy, and rainy feelings and experiences. Overcoming those tough times together is what nurtured that bond – and what will make it forever special.
What to Do When Feeling Stressed
We all experience stress every now and then. Life happens – it’s not always possible to stay in control of everything that is taking place around us.
In those situations, it’s always a good idea to take the time to distinguish whether you are feeling a good or a bad kind of stress. If it’s a good one, channel that feeling into energy and focus to boost you to accomplish your goals. If it’s a bad one, we’ve prepared some tips for you to overcome that stress and keep your peace of mind.
- Talk a walk. Try disconnecting yourself for at least a couple of minutes from the situation and setting that has triggered that stress to cool your mind. When you are back to your normal state, come back to tackle the issue.
- Light a scented candle. Research has shown that scents such as lavender, rose, bergamot, geranium, and neroli have powerful effects in helping minimize your feelings of stress and anxiety.
- Cut down on coffee. Because of caffeine’s stimulant nature, high doses of it can increase your likelihood of feeling anxious. Try substituting it with some green tea or a cup of water with some slices of lemon.
- Spend quality time with your family and loved ones. Spending time with the people we love can trigger our levels of oxytocin – the chemical in our body responsible for our feelings of love, belonging, and connection. Taking a step back from work or school and investing time with your friends and family can build up your levels of oxytocin and reduce your stress.
- Try meditating! Meditation is known for having strong relaxing effects. When meditating, you’ll be slowing your breathing, heart pressure, and pulse – all of which can reduce anxiety and stimulate you back into a peaceful state of mind.
- Exercise. We all have that friend that is always encouraging us to hit the treadmill, go to the gym, or go for a “fun” run around the park (I know, there’s nothing fun about that!). When feeling stressed, you might want to give it a try! And who knows, you might end up thanking your friend for it.
- Avoid procrastinating. As previously stated, there are so many things outside our control that can trigger stress in us. Yet, for the things that you can control, do so wisely! Learn when to say no and choose wisely how you invest your time, energy, and focus! It will empower you to stay on top of your to-do list and keep you organized.
- Spend time with your pet. I saved the best for last. Nothing says unconditional love, happiness, and loyalty as that shown by our pets. Research has shown that spending quality time with pets can reduce our stress levels by boosting our mood and increasing our feelings of connection. (Pro tip: next time you are with your pet, try showing your pet the same level of excitement and love that he has when he sees you. If you are not immediately feeling happier, more joyful, and less anxious, do let me know!)
Navigating stress is not always a bad thing: if we channel that energy correctly, we can transform that negative feeling into positivity.
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