Can stress actually be a good thing?
Most of us grew up believing that stress is a bad thing, after all, when we speak of stress it’s usually in relation to something bad. This is what’s known as ‘negative stress.’ It’s that unpleasant feeling of being out of control or unable to cope, which can lead to fear, anxiety and both mental and physical illness.
Did you know though that stress can actually be beneficial to keeping a healthy mental state too, with studies showing a positive response to certain types of stress?1 Our bodies are remarkable in the way they are constructed to help us survive and in certain circumstances, stress can actually be a good thing. It allows us to deal with challenges and complete tasks when we feel under pressure, and it triggers our fight-or-flight response which forces us to deal with the things we have to or escape the things that could harm us.
Turning negative stress into positive stress (eustress)
Our bodies won’t necessarily recognise positive stress (known as eustress) straight away and our first response to a stressful situation may not feel positive at all however, both positive and negative stress can occur simultaneously and when this happens, studies have shown that the positive stress is more likely to dominate.2 There are other factors that can also influence our ability to respond positively to stress too:
• Maintaining a belief system of hope and expectation with a positive outlook on life
• Confidence in ourselves and our ability to manage stressors
• Expecting the best of ourselves, rather than the worst of ourselves
• Expectation of a reward for dealing with a stressful situation
The benefits of Eustress
Eustress has the ability to leave us feeling exhilarated rather than feeling negative. When the stressful situation you have encountered is over, your internal stress system will turn down and you will return to a healthy mental state. Essentially, positive stress can help you complete tasks effectively when under pressure. Some examples of when this may be useful are when taking part in a sporting competition, during a test or examination, while planning a wedding, holiday or house move or while trying to meet an important deadline.
Making positive stress work for you
To continue keeping your stress positive and ensuring your physiological health is well balanced, it is important to regularly check in with yourself and monitor your stress levels. Remind yourself of the importance of staying positive and enforce self-belief by telling yourself “I can do this” or “This is no problem for me.” If you find yourself struggling, take a moment to meditate or take some deep breaths.
Organisation is also important to stop you feeling overwhelmed and prevent you making mistakes that could turn your positive stress into negative stress. If you struggle with your organisational skills, try to make lists of everything you have to do in order of importance. If you are working on something important always back it up or make a copy to avoid the potential stress of anything getting lost and if stress is affecting you emotionally, focus on self-care and come up with a plan. Remember to include things like taking regular breaks and allowing yourself to relax, and always make time to sleep and rest. Give yourself time away from your tasks to get some fresh air and light exercise and finally, ensure you follow a healthy, balanced diet and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
By making positive stress work for you in this way, you’ll find yourself accomplishing tasks more easily and without as much anxiety in no time at all!