12 Minutes

Edited & medically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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Most people think of stress as bad and detrimental, yet it may also be helpful and adaptive in some situations. People acquire stress as a normal psychological and physiological response to their environment. Eustress refers to pleasant, motivating stress that improves functioning, whereas distress refers to negative, overpowering stress that degrades functioning.

Stress is a typical reaction to “stressors,” or challenging, upsetting, or frightening internal and external conditions. Distressing memories or thoughts, body sensations like discomfort or pain, and emotions like grief or rage are all examples of internal stressors. Any worrying incident, health condition, or situation that has the potential to negatively affect a person or something they value is considered an external stressor.

When a person is exposed to a stressful situation, a chain reaction occurs in the brain and neurological system. When a problem or possible threat is detected in the brain, the sympathetic nervous system is triggered. Stress hormones and substances such as cortisol and adrenaline are injected into the bloodstream when the sympathetic nervous system is activated. The stress reaction (also known as fight or flight) is characterized by an increase in the pulse rate and breath, restless energy, and enhanced mental awareness.

When stress is triggered by real-life threats or problems, it can provide the energy, motivation, and attention needed to address or overcome the issue. Eustress is the term for this type of stress. When a person’s stress response occurs frequently or in response to trivial or unpredictable conditions, it is more likely to be seen as discomfort, which can have detrimental consequences for their mental and physical health.

This article looks at the two fundamental forms of stress, eustress, and distress. Keep reading to know more about stress and how we can turn our distress into productive, positive, or good stress.

Eustress is a fairly recent concept that defines a good, beneficial, and inspiring sort of stress. Eustress, contrary to distress, inspires people to work harder, enhance their skills and performance, and achieve their goals despite obstacles. Both eustress and distress cause the fight or flight response to being activated in the body and brain.

The distinction is that in positive stress or eustress, the energy invested is proportionate and attributable to the situation’s needs, whereas, in distress, the energy given is inappropriate, disproportionate, or excessive. In a particular situation, whether a person feels distressed or stressed is mostly determined by their view about themselves and the stressor. Positive stress is more likely to occur when an individual is able to demonstrate the ability to handle the stressor. This positive view of the stressor allows them to channel the energy released by the fight or flight reaction into productive endeavors.

Most people equate “stressed out” with distress, which is a negative form of stress. People who are distressed often feel anxious and overwhelmed, as well as psychological or physical symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, tension, irritability, and inattentiveness. Stress is harmful to the body and brain, and it has been connected to a variety of mental and physical disorders, as well as reducing a person’s capacity to operate.

The difference between eustress and distress is determined by the stressor(s) that generated the response and how the individual evaluates them. When a person believes the stressor or stressors are beyond their reach or ability to fix or modify, they become distressed. People who are distressed often feel overwhelmed and powerless, and because they haven’t discovered an effective solution, they resort to fretting and other counterproductive behaviors.

What makes distress and eustress different? As you may have guessed, eustress is a type of “good stress” that serves to boost energy levels, health, and happy sentiments, whereas distress is the polar opposite, with negative consequences.

The level of personal control one feels over a stressor is the key distinction between eustress and distress. When coping strategies or adaptations fail to alleviate a stressor, distress develops.

Eustress often improves one’s performance and can include feelings like:

  • Increased confidence and meaning (thought of by some health professionals to be the best measure or predictors of contentment and satisfaction in life)
  • Tenacity and drive
  • Anticipation and excitement
  • Pride
  • Increased life pleasure and happiness
  • Gratitude
  • Resilience

A disturbing occurrence, on the other hand, generally interferes with a person’s capacity to complete a job or task, as well as their quality of life. Distress can make a person feel:

  • Depleted or burned out from chronic exhaustion (also known as adrenal fatigue).
  • Despair, withdrawal, and depression
  • Fearful, worried, and nervous
  • Angry and frustrated
  • Resentful

People who are distressed are more likely to report lower quality of life (at home and at work), higher job pressure, fewer coping tools, and overall perception of poor mental health.

Increased blood pressure, muscle tension, cognitive fog, migraines, and a weakened immune system are all symptoms that are more common in people who are distressed. Chronic stress has been connected to six of the most common causes of death: chronic illness, cancer, accidents, lung disease, liver disease, and suicide.

The death of a loved one, divorce, illness, accident, hospitalization, unemployment, breakups, abuse, or addictions is all manifestations of misery. You can see why this differs from situations such as marriage or a new job.

Researchers discovered that eustress and distress generate various types of neuroendocrine alterations in the body. Due to the stimulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, catecholamines and cortisol levels alter fast in response to stressful situations.

Although cortisol (a stress hormone) can rise in reaction to good or bad stress, when someone is living with chronic, unresolved stress, it tends to stay elevated. This can be harmful, as it can result in high oxidative stress, increased disease risk, and even a shorter lifespan.

Stress can be caused by a variety of conditions and circumstances. Situations that create stress can either be viewed positively, resulting in eustress or negatively, resulting in anguish.

Some of the most prevalent stress factors reported by Americans between 2014 and 2017 included:

  • Money
  • Workplace anxiety
  • Political environment
  • The country’s future
  • Crime or violence
  • Overabundance of media
  • Illness or physical health
  • Conflicts in relationships or loneliness
  • Deprivation of sleep
  • Nutritional deficiencies

The preceding stressors were most likely listed as sources of discomfort rather than eustress. While some of the above stresses may create eustress, negative stress is more likely to result from social or economic disadvantage or persistent health concerns. Eustress is more likely to occur in more transient conditions, such as before planned transitions or when a person has the ability to influence or control the desired outcome.

The following are some examples of eustress-inducing factors:

  • Workplace progress
  • A future event that a person is hosting
  • Taking part in a concert
  • Having a child
  • Transferring to a new location

Both good stress and distress can have different effects on a person’s performance. The effects of eustress are usually good and include characteristics like enhanced drive, attention, and enthusiasm that can be directed toward a specific job or problem. Distress, on the other hand, has a detrimental impact on a person’s mood and mental wellbeing, health, and ability to perform.

High cortisol levels can cause a variety of medical and psychological ailments and disorders when distress is chronic and repeated, including:

  • Having difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Physical discomfort or agony (- for instance, stomach problems, headaches)
  • Appetite increase or decrease
  • Heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure all increase.
  • Problems in concentrating, focusing, or recalling information
  • Feeling tense, jittery, or restless
  • Feeling emotionally drained or weary
  • Thoughts that rush or repeat themselves
  • Feeling disengaged or absent from activities and duties
  • Irritability or a lack of tolerance for frustration
  • Heightened anxiety

The longer a person is distressed, the more severe the consequences and impairments become. Long-term negative stress exposure has been associated to:

  • Functional impairment in one or more areas of life
  • Mental disorders such as depression and anxiety are more likely to occur.
  • Substance abuse disorders are more likely to occur.
  • Chronic disorders, heart disease, and cancer are all at a higher risk.
  • Increased mortality rate

Because various people react differently to the same stressor, it’s difficult to classify stressors into concrete lists of good or bad stressors.

The following are some frequent stressors and how they are interpreted by most individuals.

Eustress Examples

Positive stress, or eustress, is associated with happy experiences or events. Here is a collection of stressors that usually result in beneficial outcomes. They are eustress examples.

  • Marriage
  • Purchasing a home
  • Having a child
  • Beginning a new job
  • Experiencing new areas
  • Delivering a speech
  • Getting a job promotion
  • Getting awards
  • Reuniting with old acquaintances
  • Starting a company
  • Taking up a new interest
  • Going on a journey
  • Making new acquaintances

Distress Examples

Negative stress, or distress, is linked to unpleasant occurrences or upcoming events. Here are some distressing examples. They’re the kinds of pressures that lead to bad outcomes.

  • Being harassed
  • Getting a divorce
  • Separating from a long-term partner
  • Interpersonal interaction problems
  • Having disagreements with teammates
  • A parent or a loved one has passed away.
  • Failure to meet a deadline
  • Frequent fights between parents
  • Fighting with a family member or a friend
  • Financial difficulties
  • Going bankrupt
  • Having your work terminated
  • Undergoing the effects of natural catastrophes
  • Serious health issues
  • Being charged with a crime
  • Being abused or assaulted
  • Awaiting the outcome of medical tests
  • Concerned about job reorganization or job security

Everyone will suffer distress at intervals in response to unpleasant or overwhelming circumstances, making 100% prevention an impossible goal. When distress is unavoidable, however, it is necessary to guard against its bad effects and to employ tactics that can sometimes turn distressed into eustress.

The following suggestions and actions will help you protect yourself against and prevent distress:

Concentrate on the factors of a situation that you can change

When an individual perceives a stressor surpasses their ability to deal with it, distress occurs. This is more likely to occur when people tend to focus on components of a situation that are beyond their control. Often the only component of a circumstance that you can control is how you react to it, but there are other occasions when you may take measures to address the problem or relieve stress.

Make sense of stressful and difficult situations

While finding meaning in painful or challenging situations can be tough, those who do are more likely to feel eustress instead of distress. Finding meaning in misery does not imply gratitude, but it does show resourcefulness, perseverance, and optimism. Meaning can take the form of a new perspective on yourself or your position, enhanced understanding of what matters most, or more confidence in your capacity to overcome obstacles. Meaning can often be found in the shape of a new acquaintance, skill, or career prospect.

Determine actionable actions to address the situation or avoid a negative outcome.

When an individual feels hopeless and could do nothing to alleviate the tension or prevent a negative outcome, they are in distress. While this is true in certain cases, there are many more when an individual can take at least one actionable move to promote the desired outcome. When you’re stressed, doing something feels better than doing nothing. Even if your actions do not result in the intended outcome, you will most likely feel much better about yourself for putting forth the effort.

Deal with the underlying causes of stress in your life.

There is something tough, painful, or taxing about you or your life that causes stress. Something that is inappropriate, missing, or hard in your life could be the source of your stress. It could be relationships, a job, a responsibility, or even a bad habit you’ve developed. When the source of your stress is your life or your decisions, the only true remedy is to face the problem and actively attempt to modify, improve, or separate yourself from it.

Develop Self-Compassion.

Many people become self-critical when they are stressed, punishing themselves for things that they did or didn’t do in the past and setting unattainable hopes and expectations for the future. While you may believe that your inner critic motivates you and helps you better your performance, research reveals that the contrary is true. Self-compassion has been shown to be more motivating, useful, and likely to lead to productive results than self-criticism. Even better, self-compassionate people are less likely to fail and are more likely to come back up and try again rather than give up.

Get it out of your head with mindfulness

The majority of people spend a significant amount of time in their heads, either brooding on the past or fretting about the future. These mental attempts are ineffective since you can’t change the past or forecast the future, and they also feed the harmful form of stress. Break free from these mental thought cycles by focusing your whole focus on something in the current now. It might be your body, your breath, or the environment. As you start this practice, be gentle with yourself and attempt to gently draw your notice back to the present now whenever it wanders back to the negative ideas and tales.

Seek assistance from your support system.

While it’s natural to want to isolate yourself from others when you’re stressed or going through a difficult period, isolation and withdrawal have been shown to magnify stress and the negative consequences it has on a person’s mental and physical health. Make it a point to reach out to individuals you can trust, tell them what’s going on, and ask for the aid and support you require. This not only gives you support but also enhances your relationships.

Practice relaxation methods of managing stress in the current moment

Some relaxation techniques can help you relax by interrupting the physiological stress reaction. Relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and guided meditations are all beneficial. Tai Chi and Yoga are excellent options for persons who struggle with seated exercises.

Consider starting EFT Tapping

The emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is a groundbreaking technique for regulating emotions and reducing stress. EFT involves tapping the fingers on various meridians (energy points) throughout the body while speaking affirmations aloud. While it may appear unusual, there is considerable evidence that this method is incredibly successful, and it can be completed in as little as 10 or 15 minutes.

Increase your physical activity to relieve stress

Physical activity has been shown to reduce stress by rebalancing chemicals and hormones released when the body’s stress response is triggered. Make physical activity a priority, especially when you’re under a lot of stress. Dedicating time to exercise can assist to sharpen your thinking, soothe your nerves, and increase your performance, all of which will be beneficial during stressful times.



The Balance RehabClinic is a leading provider of luxury addiction and mental health treatment for affluent individuals and their families, offering a blend of innovative science and holistic methods with unparalleled individualised care.


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