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If you’ve ever found yourself facing a job interview, promotion, second date, or the prospect of a new home, you’ve probably felt some serious stress. Too much stress can be paralyzing, but sometimes stress can be a good thing.
No matter the source of stress, whether it stems from something happy, exciting, devastating, or scary, our bodies respond to it. Chemicals are released that activate our fight-or-flight response, which has been critical to survival throughout history.
Stress is often perceived as bad, but under the right circumstances, it can give you the boost you need to up your game. This “good stress,” also called eustress, can improve job performance, productivity, and how you take in and respond to your surroundings.
What is eustress?
You hear the word stress, and all you can think about is bills, a big test, or your boss. Eustress is the opposite. This type of stress results from something positive like getting a new job, taking a vacation, or riding a rollercoaster. These stressors positively impact your emotional well-being and can even increase productivity (Quick, 2016).
What do you mean by “good stress”?
It can be hard to think about stress as a good thing. That’s usually because high-pressure situations set off physical symptoms similar to those we experience when distressed.
No matter what sets it off, once that stress switch in our bodies is flipped on, it starts a cascade of reactions. Three main stress hormones––epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), norepinephrine, and cortisol––are released and attach to receptors all over the body to respond to what’s happening (Dhabhar, 2018).
This short-term stress response isn’t just for survival. It also helps us tackle daunting tasks. Once that task is done, the response is supposed to fade. Examples of fight-or-flight responses triggered by positive stress include:
- Improved clarity and thinking during a job interview or important presentation
- The ability to focus during a big exam
- Pulling an all-nighter to finish an assignment or hit a deadline
- Having pre-race jitters before a marathon, leading to more energy for the race
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When is stress unhealthy?
Our fight-or-flight response gives us a boost when we need it, but the reaction should be fleeting.
For people constantly stressed, the reaction can harm their health and wellbeing. Stress hormones raise blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels so your body has extra energy. If stress hormones are continually triggered, they can contribute to high blood pressure, heart conditions, and diabetes (Munakata, 2018; Nyberg, 2014).
So, what can we do to generate positive stress? Unfortunately, we don’t have much control over stressful events. We can, however, control how we see and respond to situations. Below are some real-world examples of eustress and distress.
Occupational stress: getting a promotion
Your boss might generate eustress in the workplace because it improves productivity. It can be wrapped up in a person’s desire to get a promotion and in living up to a new set of expectations once they do.
On the flip side, promotions can also cause distress. You might be paralyzed with fear about discussing a promotion with your manager. If you do land a new role, you might find it too demanding or feel that your boss has unrealistic expectations of you.
In some cases, your company might be struggling to backfill your previous position, and you suddenly find yourself doing two jobs. If these working conditions continue, your mind and body feel overworked, productivity dips, and eventually, you burn out.
While certain work conditions are out of your control, there are tools you can use to balance your workday. Use the goal of getting a promotion to motivate you, but don’t let it overtake you.
Set boundaries for your time and have plans for disconnecting. If you’re not working from home, leave your laptop and other materials at work. If you can’t do this every day, try it at least a few days a week, and resist the urge to check your email when you’re at home.
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If you’re working from home, you’ll want to find ways to unplug––though you might have to get a little creative. You can set an alarm for when you want to end your workday and then power down your gadgets at that time. You can also try a mini-commute, such as a leisurely walk or bike ride at the end of the day to provide a buffer between work and home life.
Eustress and big purchases: buying a new home
Buying a new home is another example of eustress. Finding the right fit can be stressful and exciting. Getting the paperwork and cash together for a mortgage may seem like climbing Mount Everest, but it feels like a huge accomplishment when you get there.
First-time home buyers may find themselves learning new skills and solving problems they never knew existed. These hiccups of homeownership can be good stressors––as long as they’re manageable. New homeowners may also feel motivated to perform well at work to stay on top of finances.
But again, the eustress of a new home can also spiral into negative stress. For instance, your recent purchase may have problems or costs associated with it that you didn’t expect. These costs can stack up, and sometimes new homeowners don’t think they can handle the situation.
You can’t control what types of hurdles your new home will bring, but you can control how you view them. If you’re fixing things on your own, you can view each problem as an opportunity to learn a new skill (which also creates eustress).
Also, don’t forget to celebrate the small wins. Small victories include situations where you manually fixed a problem or called on someone else for help.
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Eustress in daily life
Promotions and new homes don’t come around too often for most people. However, there are many other ways to create eustress in everyday life.
You can learn a new skill or pick up a hobby. Engaging in physical activity and setting fitness goals is another great way to create positive stress. Remember that perception plays a significant role in eustress. Pick things that you find manageable but still push you out of your comfort zone.
If running is your thing, push yourself a little further each day and celebrate when you succeed. If running isn’t your thing, try it out. Every step counts. If DIY is where you want to be, head to YouTube and pick up a new skill. Snag some old furniture off the sidewalk on garbage day and fix it up with a bucket of paint.
Focusing on alternative skills is a great way to lighten the load of negative stress day-to-day life can bring, and generate eustress.
- Dhabhar, F. S. (2018). The short-term stress response – Mother nature’s mechanism for enhancing protection and performance under conditions of threat, challenge, and opportunity. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 49, 175–192. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2018.03.004. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29596867/
- Munakata, M. (2018). Clinical significance of stress-related increase in blood pressure: current evidence in office and out-of-office settings. Hypertension Research, 41(8), 553–569. doi:10.1038/s41440-018-0053-1. Retrieved from https://sci-hub.do/10.1038/s41440-018-0053-1
- Nyberg, S. T., Fransson, E. I., Heikkilä, K., Ahola, K., Alfredsson, L., Bjorner, J. B., Borritz, M., Burr, H., Dragano, N., Goldberg, M., Hamer, M., Jokela, M., Knutsson, A., Koskenvuo, M., Koskinen, A., Kouvonen, A., Leineweber, C., Madsen, I. E., Magnusson Hanson, L. L., Marmot, M. G. IPD-Work Consortium. (2014). Job strain as a risk factor for type 2 diabetes: a pooled analysis of 124,808 men and women. Diabetes Care, 37(8), 2268–2275. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25061139/
- Quick, J. C., & Henderson, D. F. (2016). Occupational Stress: Preventing Suffering, Enhancing Wellbeing. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 13(5), 459. doi: 10.3390/ijerph13050459. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27136575/
Yael Cooperman is a physician and works as a Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.