Stress has earned a bad reputation in recent years for its role in everything from heart disease to the health of the skin and hair. Decades of medical studies has linked stress to everything from heart failures and mental disorders to obesity and balding. In fact, one can easily be persuaded into blaming stress for just about everything that goes wrong in our lives. However, what these studies fail to mention is that there are two types of stress: good stress and bad stress.
The negative effects of stress are well-documented. Everyone has experieced negative stress at one time or another, and we all know how it can influence our overall health. Good stress, however, is a topic which doesn’t get much attention. When channeled and managed properly, stress can have great benefits to our health.
Experts refer to this good type of stress as eustress, which is the opposite of distress. Eustress is a form of stress which can motivate and inspire a person, spurring them on to a happy life. Those with competitive streaks are prime examples of people who thrive on eustress. When properly managed, this type of stress can lead to great things, whether its a sports championship or a promotion at work.
Distress, which is the unhealthy and potentially deadly form of stress, is usually the result of fear, anger, or anxiety. Distress can have significant effects on the mood of an individual, causing one to become frustrated, scared, or hopeless. In severe cases, it can lead to heart failure, respiratory problems, and even suicide. By approaching bad situations with a positive outlook, it is possible to transform distress into eustress.
There is even another type of stress, which is also dangerous. This is over-stress, and can be the result of both too much distress or eustress. Even positive stress has the potential to become unhealthy if it is allowed to control one’s life. This can be seen in people who are overly competitive, or people who are slaves to their jobs. A key element to managing stress, both positive and negative, is to find a healthy balance.
Thanks to the groundbreaking research of Hans Selye, a pioneer in the field of stress, the benefits of stress are being looked at much more carefully. Psychologists now believe that our level of performance in virtually everything we do is directly related to the level of stress we experience. Both high and low levels of stress decrease performance, but moderate levels enhance performance. To demonstrate this point, imagine getting a relaxful full-body massage. Now imagine stepping onto a football field and being expected to be an agressive player. It would be nearly impossible. This is why athletes play loud music and get themselves “psyched up” for a game, rather than going to the spa and getting a massage.
The myth that all stress is bad will persist for eternity, or at least until science and medicine devote more time studying this interesting subject.