As humans, we undergo stress as a normal response to certain stimuli. Our brain working through our bodies provides the necessary set-up to protect us from perceived threats, releasing stress hormones which enable us engage in any one of our fight-flight-freeze responses
At face value- the word stress connotes all forms of negative impressions! From burnouts to depression… just name it. Usually, when we hear people say they’re “stressed,” it usually means they are experiencing negative pressure which could be mental or physical. The interesting thing though, is the fact that not all stress is bad and should be avoided. Converse to popular opinion, we need to encourage Eustress – a form of stress which is critical to improving our emotional, psychological and physical performance levels
The rarely discussed Stress form #Positive stress [or eustress] is a short-term stress: it motivates us to act by focusing our energies to enhance performance. This stress response comes when we get excited and includes the adrenaline rush, we get when doing an activity – for instance: ski diving, or the feeling you get on a first date or even a speech you get to make during a college graduation ceremony.
#Acute Stress would comprise brief, one-time short-lived stressors like getting late for a crucial meeting or just getting into a big exam. Basically, due to our resilient configuration, we soon get back to healthy hormone levels once the stressor is removed.
If we get acute stress from being in traffic and we get into same traffic daily each month then this soon turns into #Chronic Stress which can have negative impacts on our health due to the accelerated production of the stress hormone called cortisol.
At this point, the adrenal glands produce more cortisol than can be managed which overtime may shrink the pre-frontal cortex responsible for memory and learning. The pre-frontal cortex is critical in managing our stress levels by slowing down the production of cortisol in the HPA axis [hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal]. The Amygdala is a brain structure situated at the mid-part of the brain which detects emotional and biological stressors and instructs the HPA to respond.
In positive stress [eustress], when the amygdala identifies for instance emotional stress like a critical big exam and signals the production of cortisol via the HPA, our pre-frontal will regulate the response by making it appear less intense and this reduces the production of cortisol. In the case of a bad stress, there would be excess production of cortisol. This entire process is what scientists describe as the #limbic system.
The amygdala first detects stress in the environment and the prefrontal cortex helps to control our emotional response to stress so we don’t get too stressed out. The hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis releases cortisol into the blood stream. Cortisol regulates the HPA axis and signals to the body in order to fight stress.
With the right amounts of Cortisol, stress is kept controlled but when the cortisol levels are in excess, the HPA axis may slow down its activity. The amygdala detects stress in the environment, while the prefrontal cortex regulates our reactions to stress
When the stress exceeds one’s ability to manage or control it gets into the #distress mode and can also include internal factors as a result of one’s own thinking: for instance, internal stressors like premonitions and phobias as well as the need to be ‘perfect’ are all internal stressors that can put us in distress.
These kinds of stressors throw us out of our comfort zones for the first time. It’s however key to note that one person’s eustress may be another’s distress. For instance, sky diving whilst a regular adrenaline booster for one individual, may turn out to be such an overwhelming terrifying activity for another. Basically, what differentiates a eustress from a distress is personal.
How to Manage Bad Stress
Bad Stress can be managed, reduced and eventually eliminated! The antidote lies in identifying healthy ways to deal with them. The list below is a non-exhaustive menu for managing bad stress:
It’s all in your Mind- Turn all Stress to Eustress
Research now shows that stress is harmful only when you believe it is! Stress is actually a natural resource that can be leveraged to improve your performance and physical-mental health. Stress researchers like Alia Crum and Kelly McGonigal at Stanford University have been examining stress and the mindsets associated with it for years. They have tested in several measures how well individuals manage their stress, how high their well-being levels are, physiological indicators like levels of stress hormones in their body, and various measures of life functioning.
What they consistently found was that people who believe that stress is helpful are more satisfied in life, less depressed, more productive and happy at work, and have greater confidence that they can cope with life challenges. They find more meaning in the struggles of life (McGonigal 2015).
Psychologist Dr. Kara Fasone opines that leveraging eustress is simply sufficiently challenging yourself without expending all your resources and advises that eustress will help us grow emotionally, psychologically and physically:
- Emotionally, eustress can result in positive feelings of contentment, inspiration, motivation, and flow.
- Psychologically, eustress helps us build our self-efficacy, autonomy, and resilience.
- Physically, eustress helps us build our body (e.g., through completing a challenging workout).
Eustress is beneficial to all. It helps build one’s self-esteem, strengthens your mind and body and generally is a constant source of motivation/inspiration. A few tips for increasing Eustress in our daily routines:
At the end of the day, we have the power to convert the bad stressors into good stressors and into Eustress. It’s simply a mindset – So next time you feel stress- turn it around into YouStress via Eustress!!!
This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.
Sources / Further reading
Bezdek K and Telzer E. (2017): Have no fear, the Brain is Here! How your brain responds to Stress