Eustress vs. Distress: The Different Types of Stressors
Feb 17, 2023 By Lael Miller
Stress isn’t always bad—as long as you learn to harness its perks. It’s an ancient survival mechanism that triggers a fight, flight, or freeze response once key to our survival and is more complex than you may realize. In this article, you’ll learn about the two types of stress and how to manage them effectively to avoid the consequences that come with prolonged distress.
Good Stress vs. Bad Stress: The Two Types of Stress
Hans Selye, a 20th-century endocrinologist, dedicated much of his career to a field he pioneered: stress theory. One of his most notable contributions to science was splitting the concept of stress into two areas: positive stress (or eustress) and negative stress (distress).
What Is Eustress?
Maybe you haven’t even heard this word before: the prefix “eu-” means good or well in Greek, and “stress” refers to any type of change that triggers strain. In other words, eustress is a type of stress that feels good. It fills those experiencing it with a burst of energy and motivation to face challenges enthusiastically.
What Is Distress?
Distress makes us feel anxious and worried. The body ups its production of epinephrine (or adrenaline) and cortisol to help you respond to a perceived threat, which is a good thing in moderate amounts and for short periods of time. But in high amounts or over an extended time, your body has no chance to return to a calm state and is constantly on high alert, which becomes draining.
Signs and Symptoms of Eustress vs. Distress
Eustress and distress trigger very similar emotions, which is why it’s sometimes hard to tell them apart. First, you’ll probably feel your pulse racing and thoughts scattering. You may also suddenly feel chills running up and down your body and have cold, sweaty palms. For some people, both kinds of stress make their muscles tense up as if they’re gearing up to fight or flee, while others feel paralyzed—typical fight, flight, or freeze responses.
But what if you feel energized? That’s eustress. Because you perceive this kind of stress as a good thing, you’ll almost always feel euphoric. Focusing on the task at hand becomes easier and you’ll have enough stamina to get it done.
On the other hand, distress is draining because you see the challenge in a negative light. You may feel like your skills aren’t good enough and that you’ll never clear this obstacle in your way. Distress can seriously hurt your self-esteem, keep you up at night, and cause you to undereat or overeat.
Is Stress Bad for Your Health?
Stress (and distress in particular) is a primal mechanism of survival, so it’s not always bad. In fact, humans should strive to stay in hormesis: a balanced state of stress. Too little stress prevents you from taking on new challenges and growing, but too much stress (chronic stress) can wreak havoc on your body:
- Wears down your immune system
- Accelerates aging and damages cells
- Impacts short-and long-term memory and impedes learning
- Can exacerbate mood disorders
- Triggers insomnia, irritability, restlessness, and fatigue
What Causes a Stress Response?
Internal stressors (you’re the one putting pressure on yourself) and external stressors (someone or something is pressuring you) both trigger a stress response.
Positive or Negative Stressors?
Everyone reacts to stressors differently: what one might view as a positive stressor, someone else might see as a negative stressor. And a situation that doesn’t register as important to one person might trigger acute distress for another.
For example, one person might feel distressed over being laid off, while others might feel eustress because they’re free to explore other avenues. What would you feel, distress or eustress? Your past experience, personality, and other factors will determine if you feel distress or eustress and that can also change over time. But you also have a choice in how you choose to experience the situation.
3 Tips to Keep Distress in Check
Now that you know that having a manageable amount of stress in your life is a good thing, it’s time to make an action plan to keep distress in check. Don’t let it take over your life, or else you might be stuck with the consequences of stress. Instead, give these tips a try:
- Carve out time to relax: You should let your body come to a restful state. Incorporate an ice bath into your busy schedule, or pick up a new low-stress hobby to unwind.
- Stay positive: Don’t get worn down by the challenges life throws at you; instead, try to shift your perspective and see them as a way to grow and be resilient.
- Look at the big picture: Sometimes, negative stressors seem much more overwhelming than they actually are. Or that the situation is, or will be, worse than the actual. We’ve all been there where we anticipate something will be terrible and it’s not really as bad as we thought. Take stock of your life as a whole and find gratitude.
Can Distress Turn Into Eustress?
Yes, distress can turn into eustress. It’s all about how you respond to a potential stressor. Will you see it as an obstacle that’s keeping you from progressing, or will you face it as a challenge you’re well-equipped to overcome?
Even if you don’t quite believe you can do it, harness the power of positive self-talk. A 2020 study published by Oxford Academic found that participants who resorted to self-affirmations (sentences that affirm the person’s worth, such as “I am confident, I am strong”) felt less stressed and fared better in complicated tasks. The age-old fake it till you make it strategy seems to pay off.
Some Discomfort Is Necessary to Grow
Implementing a certain degree of discomfort (stress) in your life is useful: it prevents you from getting complacent and static. Eustress and distress foster change, which is necessary if you want to better yourself. Just like plunging into an Ice Barrel for a mind-and-body restorative experience, stress (in the right amount) feels uncomfortable at first but pushes you to improve.
The Invitation to Adventure
We are inviting you on an extraordinary adventure to explore the depths of your potential and experience the incredible results Ice Barrel will produce in your life. Not just for you, but for the ones you love most and the things you are most passionate about.
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