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Not just “Stressed OUT” anymore! Defining Eustress VS. Distress

So hopefully this article won’t stress you out! Sometimes learning new things can even make us stressed.  Let’s first define stress.  Stress is a normal response to external events or circumstances that are upsetting, scary or difficult.  As humans we have both Internal Stressors, such as thoughts or memories and External Stressors which can include any concerning events or situations that have […]

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Dr. Michelle Golland aka Dr. MadDog #Shrinkland

So hopefully this article won’t stress you out! Sometimes learning new things can even make us stressed.  Let’s first define stress.  Stress is a normal response to external events or circumstances that are upsetting, scary or difficult.  As humans we have both Internal Stressors, such as thoughts or memories and External Stressors which can include any concerning events or situations that have the potential to negatively impact a person or something they care about. 

            Our brain and nervous system set into motion a chain reaction around the stressors in our lives.  Our sympathetic nervous system releases stress hormones that include adrenaline and cortisol into our blood stream to prepare us for Fight, Flight or Freeze.  Our heart rate goes up and our blood pressure increases in preparation to take action or to flee situation.

            Eustress Vs. Distress

            We experience Eustress in response to actual problems or real threats.  In Eustress our bodies physiological reactions become helpful because we are then also prepped to respond in a helpful way by providing energy, motivation and focus to confront and face the problem at hand.  Eustress is a relatively new concept and is the opposite of Distress.  

            Most of us just consider our “Stress” really as “Stressed Out” and in distress.  But clarifying that our distress experience is unique and different from Eustress can help us parse out certain feelings of anxiety and fear versus excitement and motivation.  Distress is the negative kind of stress that causes feelings of overwhelm, anxiety as well as to experience headaches, tension, insomnia, inattentiveness or irritability.  As humans if we are under continual and chronic stress, we can develop both long-term physical issues and mental illness.  Distress is caused when we assume the stressor or stressors are not within our control and we may not have the ability to change them.  Distress is caused because we don’t seem to have a solution that is actionable.

            Signs of Eustress & Distress

            The physiological signs of Eustress and Distress can be almost identical such as increased heart rate and increased respiration.  The psychological signs of good and bad stress are different.  

            Eustress is characterized by productive energy, can increase focus, increases motivation, can be experienced as excitement.  Eustress also feels manageable and can improve your performance, confidence and often has the expectation of a positive outcome.

            Distress is characterized by restless energy, decreased focus, increases procrastination and avoidance.  It is also experienced fear, concern and overwhelm.  Distress also impairs performance is associated with insecurity and a fear of negative outcome. 

7 Ways to Prevent Distress & Promote Eustress

  1. Focus on the aspects of the situation that are within your control
  2. Find meaning in difficult and stressful situations
  3. Identify actionable steps that can improve the situation to prevent a negative outcome
  4. Address root causes of stress within your life
  5. Practice self-compassion
  6. Use Mindfulness or Meditation to get out of your head
  7. Reach out to your support system and ask for help

In these times of continued high stress within our country due to the pandemic, racial justice issues and our divisive political environment it is critical that we learn to identify both Distress and the Eustress within ourselves and our lives.  We are all in this crazy and difficult time together so let’s increase kindness and assist those who are asking for help and of course practice first by getting the help you may need for coping with the major “Distressers”  in your life.

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