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When Is Stress Actually Good For You?

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Eustress (good stress) is associated with the presence of positive psychological states such as hope, engagement and meaning. It improves mental and physical abilities and motivates you to get out of your comfort zone. We encounter good stress when learning something new, solving a puzzle, playing a game and when confronted with challenges.

What is Stress?

Stress is part of the body’s natural mechanism of responding to a demand. A stressful event can basically trigger a flight or fight response. This can be good in certain cases, where it can help alert or protect ourselves in a challenging situation. Sometimes, stress can rise too high and hamper our ability to deal with situations – instead of flight-or-fight, we may just freeze!

How much stress is too much? Every individual has his/her own self-perceived ability to cope with situations, so the boundaries of good and bad stress differ from person to person. Researchers have pointed out that an individual’s response to a stressor in the environment is usually a mix of both positive and negative psychological states. For example, a difficult situation, to start with, seems challenging (positive) as well as threatening (negative). Our response depends on which states gains dominance.

[Read: How Do You Identify Signs Of Stress In Kids And Teens?]

Good Stress

Eustress (positive stress) is associated with the presence of positive psychological states rather than merely the absence of negative states. This is an important distinction. Removing bad stress is not sufficient. Having good stress is important.

Good stress helps provide mental alertness and motivates you to increase your overall performance. It gets your heart pumping and boosts your adrenaline levels. It pushes you into “achiever” mode.

Good stress is something that you feel when you pick something just out of your comfort zone but believe that its doable. You might feel pressurized, yet enjoy the challenge or event ahead of you. This kind of stress helps you push your boundaries and make you more productive.

We encounter and use positive stress all the time – when learning something new, solving a puzzle, playing a game or taking up a challenging or interesting assignment. When you’re exercising, you’re exerting physical stress on your body. Your body might ache and you might want to give up. The results might however be positive!

Without good stress, you cannot climb Mount Everest. You probably cannot ask a girl out for a date either.

Case Studies On the Positive Impact of Eustress

Hope

A study was conducted on nurses, who worked in critical care areas of the hospital [2]. The primary focus of the study was the relationship between a positive response to work demands and the health of the health care provider, specifically nurses. This was considered important because the health of the health care provider can affect the quality of health care delivery.

Despite the demanding nature and pressure of work, nurses reported high levels of the positive psychological state of hope. They remained actively engaged in their work, and this positive response to demands (or eustress) was related to their perceptions of their own well-being.

Interestingly, post hoc analyses showed that nurses in critical care had higher levels of hope than those working in other areas of the hospital. 

Engagement

In a longitudinal study of air traffic controllers (ATCs), over a three-year period, the cortisol values of 201 men were measured every 20 minutes for five hours on three or more days and compared to both objective and subjective assessments of workload [3]. Cortisol is a hormone secreted by the hypothalamic–pituitatary–adrenal system that has been found to be responsive to a variety of different environmental challenges. Cortisol acts on a variety of the body’s organs, but its primary effect is to increase the supply of glucose and fatty acids in the bloodstream.

While the increases in cortisol for all levels of workload were slight, the men who showed the highest increase in cortisol to increased work reported themselves as more satisfied and were regarded by peers as more competent. These high-cortisol responders also showed less frequent illness than those with lower cortisol levels, who for any given level of work tended to have more minor health problems.

The men whose cortisol increased in response to challenging work were engaged rather than stressed.

[Read: How To Improve Your Immunity Against Stress]

Meaning

A study of military personnel deployed on a peace-keeping mission investigated the relationship between the meaning of work and hardiness [4]. As a disposition, hardiness is the tendency to find meaning in events, especially stressors that challenge individuals. Soldiers were surveyed midway through a year-long deployment, and again several months after. Results indicated that hardiness was associated with engagement in meaningful work, which in turn was associated with deriving benefits from the deployment long after it ended. Soldiers who were hardy identified with their peacekeeping role, believed in the importance of their mission and were personally engaged in that mission. This study illustrated that individuals confronted by stressful situations can derive positive outcomes, and that certain individual characteristics (for example hardiness) can facilitate this process. Other characteristics that can promote health and wellbeing include self-reliance and character.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.