Eustress vs. Distress, Tips to Take Control

Categories: Building Resilience, Workplace Wellness

Tricia Wadleigh
Tricia Wadleigh

By Tricia J Wadleigh
Emergency Preparedness Coordinator
Greater Monadnock Public Health Network

Stress: Just saying the word may cause your blood pressure to rise. But did you know that not all types of stress are “bad”?

“Eustress” is a lesser known type of stress that is positive, healthful and gives one a feeling of fulfillment (“EU” has a Greek origin meaning “well, good”).  Examples of this type of stress include the happiness you feel with a new baby, getting married, graduating from college or winning a race. Eustress gives you the feeling of “butterflies in your stomach,” a slight nervousness that is combined with happiness.

With this in mind, we don’t need to avoid all stress — in fact, eustress keeps us excited about life. Our focus should be avoiding and decreasing distress. Distress, the flip side of eustress, is the feeling of anxiety or affliction; this type of stress is caused by physical or mental suffering and pain. Studies have shown a relationship between distress and physical disease.

So how do we keep the good stress — eustress — coming, and the bad stress — distress — at bay? Here are a few tools to help  manage the “bad” stress:

  1. Take responsibility for improving your emotional and physical well-being. No one else can do it for you, though there are community resources if you need help!
  2. Practice relaxation and mindfulness. Taking time each day to meditate or simply sitting quietly can significantly improve immune function. Check out the page and smartphone app at Calm, for a primer or join a local meditation group for guidance.
  3. Practice gratitude for the little and big things that happen throughout the day. You may even want to keep a “gratitude journal” to record what you are grateful for each day.
  4. Socialize during the day. Taking time to visit co-workers — whether it is for a quick check-in on the way to fill up your water bottle or a longer visit over lunch — can help lower the distress you may feel at work due to deadlines or other pressures.
  5. Take an exercise break. While at work, take a break and go on walks with co-workers or friends.  Suggest “walking meetings” to combine working with social connection, fresh air and physical activity.
  6. Get a good night’s sleep. Sleep is critical to promoting health and reducing stress. In a fast-paced society, it is important to recognize that skimping on sleep is not a beneficial way to get ahead.
  7. Practice emotional intelligence and self-awareness. Emotional intelligence is the ability to use and manage your emotions in positive and constructive ways. Self-awareness is the ability to recognize your emotions and actions and their impact.

So in the middle of a day, when you are feeling distressed, stop and remember that you are in control. While you may not have control over a stressful situation, you do have control over the distress that situation can cause you. Use the tips above to manage the stress that can be damaging to your health. And don’t forget to enjoy the moments when you are feeling eustress – the energy from eustress can be harnessed to accomplish some pretty amazing things. 

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