Eustress Vs. Distress: Good Or Bad?

Updated January 17, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Stress is a natural human response to frightening, threatening, or scary events and situations. In some cases, stress can keep us safe by motivating us to fight for ourselves or our loved ones. It can also encourage us to keep going when we’d rather give up. Eustress and distress are two different types of stress that can impact your overall health and daily functioning. Recognizing which one is healthy and which one may be harmful can help you run toward positive stress and take steps to stay away from negative stress.

Are You Experiencing Eustress Or Distress In Your Life?

Eustress Vs. Distress

Eustress and distress are two very different forms of stress. Eustress is a term for positive stress that can have a beneficial impact on your life. "Eu" is a prefix meaning good and is used in words like "euphoria" or "eulogy." Eustress can refer to challenges that put pressure on us to grow and improve. Distress, on the other hand, is a negative, “bad” form of stress. Distress is what you commonly think of when you think of stress, and it can be detrimental to your well-being.

Eustress works in a similar way throughout the body as other types of stress. It heightens the central nervous system, making us more alert. One of its key factors is that it usually occurs in response to a specific situation or task at hand that is challenging but ultimately achievable. While other negative feelings may linger, eustress can give us a temporary boost that may help us to achieve things and be proactive.

The Different Types Of Stress: Distress

Distress is the negative version of stress and is what most people refer to when they talk about stress. While sometimes unavoidable, experiencing distress usually isn't good in terms of mental wellness. While a small amount of distress can have a similar effect to that of eustress, a prolonged experience can have unwanted side effects. When it comes to pervasive stress, whether from a job or other sources, it can have a significant negative impact on your health and well-being.

Distress is generally characterized by the way in which it surpasses our ability to cope with stressful circumstances. Looming feelings of anxiety about things that we have no control over can be a significant contributing factor to this type of stress. While eustress allows us to tackle challenges in a positive way, distress highlights the ways in which we are powerless in the face of huge obstacles and can lead to anxiety. Distress can also develop in the wake of events outside of our control, such as the death of a loved one, the end of a romantic relationship, and personal or professional failure. 

Distress Is Common

While most people use the term stress to refer exclusively to distress, this is an umbrella term that can refer to any type of stress, good or bad. Although stress tends to be more commonly talked about due to its negative effects on mental health, it can be just as important to highlight the positive sides of stress, as it can help us to build confidence and accomplish goals.

Eustress Can Be Good

Eustress can have a wealth of benefits in terms of personal achievement and mental health. For example, it may give us the temporary boost we need in order to complete tense but ultimately exciting and positive activities. If you've ever been stressed but optimistic when making a big life change, you've likely experienced this. Eustress allows us to cope with the challenges of new situations without becoming overwhelmed by them.

Eustress is often a result of pushing yourself past the place where you are comfortable in order to grow and change. Whether you're looking for a challenge in terms of physical, personal, or professional goals, it can increase your self-confidence when you reach new milestones in your life. 

Eustress can also significantly increase our feelings of self-efficacy, which refers to a person's belief in their ability to achieve different outcomes according to their actions. It can make us more prepared to face the challenges that come our way, big and small. Without any stress present, psychologists theorize that people would be bored and unfulfilled. Eustress could be characterized as the happy medium in terms of stress, energizing without pushing us past our limits. Eustress not only has a positive function in our lives but can also help prepare us for more negative kinds of stress— like distress.

Eustress And New Experiences

If you're feeling bored and stagnant, you might need new, challenging activities that engage and inspire you. Try picking up a new hobby or activity, whether that means a pick-up sport, a creative discipline, or even just a little time carved out to explore new places with friends and family. The excitement of new, foreign experiences can cause eustress, bringing with it other positive benefits.

The Negative Effects Of Distress 

While eustress can have a positive effect on the mind and the body, distress can have the opposite effect. It's important to watch out for symptoms of stress and distress so that you can enact change and seek help if necessary.

  • Fatigue and lethargy: Fatigue and lethargy are some of the most common symptoms of distress. If you struggle to get out of bed in the morning and feel like you're weighed down throughout the day, you could be experiencing the adverse effects of distress. Fatigue and tiredness may make it more difficult to accomplish basic tasks, which can seem overwhelming and nearly impossible to complete.

  • Anger or irritability: If you've ever snapped at someone in a stressful moment, you may already be familiar with the way that anger can creep into anxiety. If you often feel angry and irritable, it might be a sign of distress. When experiencing excess distress, it can feel as if you're on a much shorter fuse, and even little things can set you off.

  • Changes in sleeping patterns: Changes in your sleeping patterns can be another common sign of distress. You could even be experiencing insomnia. Conversely, you might be tired all the time, sleep much more often than usual, and fall asleep at odd hours of the day. Poor quality sleep can often exacerbate existing stress, making this an especially challenging symptom.

  • Feelings of guilt or hopelessness: When you're experiencing prolonged distress, it's common to feel guilty or hopeless. Since you're faced with stressful situations that you have little to no control over, you may feel guilt over your actions, and may even be powerless to enact meaningful change. Guilt is a common side effect of extreme stress.

How To Cope With Stress

If you're experiencing the adverse effects of stress or anxiety, there are many different steps you can take to cope. Whether you implement lifestyle changes, adopt healthier habits, visit a therapist, or get prescribed medication, it is possible to reduce the amount of distress you’re experiencing over time. Always consult a medical provider before deciding to start or stop a new medication. No matter what methods you use to get your stress under control, something different can work for everyone, and it can be helpful to try new things until you find something effective. Even when stress is an unavoidable part of life, you can still try to reduce unnecessary stress where possible.

Are You Experiencing Eustress Or Distress In Your Life?

Online Counseling With BetterHelp

If you’ve been struggling to cope with distress on your own, it may be time to consider counseling. Therapy can be a productive way to express your thoughts and feelings, get a second opinion, and come up with strategies to cope with stress or anxiety in your daily life. Many people face barriers to mental health care, such as a lack of transportation, affordability, or limited availability of nearby professionals. Online therapy solves many of these issues and may remove much of the stress you would’ve otherwise experienced when seeking care. You can connect with a licensed online therapist through the BetterHelp platform whenever you feel comfortable and ready.

The Efficacy Of Online Counseling

Those experiencing stress may benefit from online counseling. Researchers who studied the mental health of university students before and during the COVID-19 pandemic assessed the effectiveness of online versus face-to-face psychodynamic counseling intervention. They found that “the online counselling [sic] intervention during the pandemic was effective in reducing psychological distress.” This included mental health concerns like depression, obsessive-compulsiveness, interpersonal sensitivity, and anxiety. 

The Takeaway

Stress is a natural human feeling that can have both positive and negative purposes. It can help to motivate and keep you safe, but it can also be a byproduct of anxiety or pressure from others. Recognizing the type of stress that you’re experiencing can help you identify whether you need to make lifestyle changes or even seek support. If you’re trying to cope with emotional distress in any area of your life, a licensed online therapist may be able to assist you. They can equip you with helpful tools and resources that may allow you to gain more control over your life. 

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