Eustress vs. Distress: Good Or Bad?

By: Margaret Wack

Updated November 17, 2021

Eustress And Distress

Eustress is a term for positive stress, while distress relates to the negative stress we commonly experience. Eustress and distress are two very different forms of stress.

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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 form of stress. Distress is what you commonly think of when you think of stress, and distress 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 the key factors is that it usually occurs in response to a specific situation and task at hand that is challenging but ultimately achievable. While other negative feelings may linger, eustress gives us a temporary boost that helps 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 at all. While sometimes unavoidable, this usually isn't a good thing 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 plenty of unwanted side effects. Especially when it comes to pervasive stress, whether from a job and other sources, it can have a significant negative impact on your health and wellbeing.

Distress is generally characterized by the way in which it surpasses our ability to cope with stressful circumstances. The difference between the looming feelings of anxiety about things that we have no control over are significant contributing factors. 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 also happens in the wake of common events outside of our control, such as the death of a loved one, the failure of a romantic relationship, and personal or professional failure. Feeling like life is more difficult than usual and notice you're diffracted, you may be suffering from severe stress.

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 and bad. Although this feeling tends to be more commonly talked about due to its negative effects on mental health, this can be just as important, as it helps 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. It gives us the temporary boost we need in order to complete stressful but ultimately exciting and positive activities. If you've ever been stressed but optimistic when you're starting a family, beginning a new job, and organizing another big life change, you've experienced this. It allows us to cope with the challenges of new situations without becoming overwhelmed by them.

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. It is 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 also helps prepare us for more negative kinds of stress like distress.

Try To Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

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 the physical, personal, and professional, it's always a good idea to reach for your goals. The beneficial effects can help you accomplish new things in many different areas in your life.

Eustress And Distress: 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, and even just a little time carved out to explore new places with friends and family. The excitement of new, foreign experiences will trigger it, along with a wealth of positive benefits.

Set Goals

Eustress functions properly when it helps you to achieve your goals. It's a good idea to set goals that are slightly out of your reach, that require effort to work towards. While these goals should still be within the realm of reason, it's important to push yourself toward better things in order to keep yourself actively engaged.

Look Toward the Future

Dream big! At its best when you're optimistic about the future. Whether you're dreaming of starting a family, rising in the ranks at work, and even just achieving a new personal best at the gym, looking at the future in a positive light can help you to reap the benefits by achieving your goals.

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 from the adverse effects of distress. Fatigue and tiredness make it more difficult to accomplish basic tasks, which can seem overwhelming and nearly impossible.

Anger or Irritability

If you've ever snapped at someone in a stressful moment, you're familiar with the way that anger can creep into anxiety. If you often feel angry and irritable, it might be a sign of distress and severe stress. 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 Sleep Patterns

Change in sleep patterns is another common sign of distress. You could even be experiencing insomnia. Conversely, you might be tired all the time, sleep much more often than is typical, and often 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 and maybe hopeless. Because you're faced with stressful situations that you have little to no control over, you can feel guilt over your actions, and maybe even powerless to enact meaningful change. Guilt is a common side effects of extreme stress.

Hope to Cope with Stress

Are you experiencing the negative effects of distress? The good news is that stress is incredibly common. There are a variety of techniques for mitigating the effects of stress.

Try To Get 30 Min Of Exercise Every Day

Exercise has been shown to have a powerful effect against stress. Exercise releases a wealth of feel-good hormones into the body, promoting relaxing positive feelings. In addition, exercise can help distract you from negative and obsessive thoughts. Exercise also tires the body in a positive way, making it easier for you to fall asleep at night.

Lifestyle Changes

There are a variety of small changes you can make in your life to help fight stress and anxiety. In addition to exercise, it's also important to eat healthy, balanced meals, plus to steer clear of drugs and alcohol that could further exacerbate your symptoms. If you're feeling stressed out and still craving stimulation, try sipping on a cup of tea to ward off anxiety by promoting a calming focus.

It's also important to identify the stressors in your life, then to try to reduce them to the best of your ability. While not all stress can be avoided, sometimes it's a good idea to take a careful look at your life in order to weed out stressful situations. Maybe you're stressed out by a particular person who you can make plans to avoid, and maybe you have a stressful occupation for which you could consider switching jobs. Even when stress is an unavoidable part of life, you can still try to avoid unnecessary stress if possible.

Seek Help

Doctors or therapists can also provide invaluable support through their therapy services. Therapy can be a great 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. BetterHelp offers a diverse selection of online therapy services to help you manage your mental health. Interested in learning more? Get in touch with us today!


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