By Elisabeth Kuhn
We know all about the negative effects of stress, including everything from heart disease to diabetes to divorce to insomnia to suicide. Given all the bad press stress gets, it’s easy to believe that stress is an evil that must be purged from our lives at all cost.
We continually seek out the latest in stress management techniques to achieve a less stressful life. To some degree, this is a good idea – constant negative stress should be reduced whenever possible. However, there’s another side to stress – a positive side that’s frequently overlooked.
Mental health professionals and doctors even have a name for positive stress: “eustress”. Eustress refers to the constructive stress that helps keep you motivated and driven in all aspects of your life. For example, an athlete may find a big game stressful, but the nerves and excitement of this eustress encourages him or her to push harder and play better.
In this case, stress is a temporary response that brings about positive changes – such as the drive to play better. This is a very different phenomena than a long-term type of stress that eats away at the athlete’s health and well-being.
So maybe you’re not a world-class athlete – that doesn’t mean you don’t experience eustress in your own life. Maybe you get the same rush from performing in a community theater presentation or use the boost of stress to help inject energy into an important presentation at work. Perhaps you’re someone who turns the stress of gaining weight into an impetus to spend more time at the gym.
Having a small amount of stress in our lives drives us to excel in everything we do and it enables us to feel content with life and the choices we’ve made. Therefore, getting rid of stress entirely is not only impossible – it wouldn’t be healthy to do anyways!
We also need small amounts of stress in our lives to respond to the various threats and dangers we occasionally encounter. In this case, stress is part of the fight-or-flight response – a holdover from our primitive ancestors. When we detect the presence of danger, our bodies kick into high gear.
They release the hormone cortisol which increases the level of sugar in our blood. Our breathing rate increases and oxygen fills our muscles in preparation to either fight the threat or flee from it. Without this physiological response, we wouldn’t be able to defend ourselves nearly as well against all sorts of dangers and intrusions.
While it’s clear that too much stress can wreak havoc with your overall health, doctors and mental health specialists have found that too little stress can also be harmful. Negative stress causes a wide range of emotional and physical problems that can inhibit your energy and drive.
On the other hand, as long as it’s reasonable and not excessive, a certain amount of stress plays a positive role in helping us fulfill our dreams and in enabling us to protect ourselves in times of danger. This eustress can give you the determination that’s needed to work long and hard to accomplish your goals and will better equip you to handle the negative stress in your life.
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