The difference between good and bad stress seems pretty obvious on the surface. Good stress can motivate you and even make you feel excited. Bad stress, on the other hand, makes you feel anxious and can negatively affect your sense of wellbeing.
Let’s take a closer look at the differences between positive and negative stress. You’ll learn about some coping strategies to deal with bad stress, as well as signs you might need to get help from a professional.
Your Mental Health And Well-Being: What Is The Difference Between Good And Bad Stress?
Everyone encounters different stressors, or sources of stress, at one time or another. Stress itself, whether good or bad, is really nothing more than a chemical reaction.1
This reaction can lead to other reactions in the body. Your heart rate may get faster, for example. Your focus will increase as well. This increased focus could be your mind’s response to sudden danger, such as an oncoming car. Or, it could mean peering intently into a television screen cheering your favorite team to victory.
There are two forms of stress: eustress(good) and distress(bad). Either way, if your stress levels are too high, that can endanger your health. It can lead to problems such as fatigue, immune system weakness, anxiety, and more.2 Even though not all stress is bad, too much of anything is usually not a good thing.
When Stress Is Good: This Type Of Stress Can Lead To Motivation And Creating Positive Goals
It can be hard for a lot of people to associate the word “stress” with anything positive. If you’re stressed out, of course, it’s always negative. But just as all of us deal with the lows of distress at one time or another, we also get to enjoy the highs of eustress. Eustress can push us toward new goals and experiences that will provide a lifetime of benefits.
Say you’ve been turned down for a job you really wanted. Eustress can be a great source of resilience. It can help you put that disappointment to use. This can eventually help you grow personally and professionally – and this can be really good for your mental health and well-being.3
What Are Some Examples Of Good Stress?
Eustress and distress can sometimes be interchangeable and can mean different things to different people.4 Most people, for instance, will see a divorce as one of the worst stressors you could ever experience. Others, however, may see this as a fresh start, an opportunity to find love that will last a lifetime.
Another example of eustress is beginning something new. It doesn’t necessarily mean starting a new job. It could be starting a new hobby or something else. You might feel awkward or nervous at first, but you’ll probably feel excitement as well. This is eustress, and it can help you not only build new skills but also increase your sense of self-confidence.
Here are just a few other examples of eustress. Some are life-changing events. Others are more in the realm of everyday activities.
- Getting married
- Closing on a new house
- Going on a trip
- Having a baby
- Doing invigorating exercise
- Cooking something different than usual
- Getting on a rollercoaster 5
When Is Stress “Bad” Or Unhealthy?
The downside of stress, distress, is the type that is more likely to affect your general health. Thankfully, negative stressors are usually temporary. In some cases, though, they can be long-term issues that increase your levels of stress in a prolonged manner. While it can be challenging to deal with the negative effects of stress, it’s very important to do so as effectively as possible.
If your body is used to dealing with negative stressors, it can’t get back to working normally. This can result in damage to the immune system, your cardiovascular and digestive systems, and much more.6 There is no shame in seeking help. If stress seems to be taking over or is having a negative effect on your quality of life, talk with a professional.
How The Stress Hormone Cortisol Works
You’ve probably heard of a hormone known as cortisol. Many people commonly refer to it as the “stress hormone.” Stress hormones control the “fight or flight” response to perceived dangers.
But cortisol plays other roles as well, ones you might not have heard of. For example, cortisol supports information retention, healthy blood sugar levels, and a healthy metabolism. It even supports the health of a fetus.7
Cortisol levels that are too high or too low can sometimes indicate a medical issue. If they’re too high, for example, your blood sugar levels may be unsafe. Or, you might easily develop bruises on the skin. If you’re experiencing muscle weakness, fatigue, or vomiting, then your cortisol levels may be too low.8 If you have any concerns, see your doctor right away.
What Are Some Effective Ways To Deal With High Levels Of Bad Stress?
Suffering from stress on a regular basis can really take a toll on your health. There are ways you can fight this problem. Is there a chance you can change the issue that is causing you to be stressed? Can you take a train to work instead of fighting traffic every day?9
If you can’t change the sources of your stress, you might be able to change your response. In other words, you could possibly change the way you perceive it. Going back to the traffic example, maybe you can listen to a podcast or something else that will take your mind off of the problem.10
Some of the best methods of stress management involve the same things you do to protect your general health. These include eating healthy as well as getting plenty of exercise and quality sleep.11
Sometimes though, stress levels can become too high and too difficult to handle alone. If you find stress is affecting the quality of your life, a professional may be able to help. Don’t be afraid to speak with an expert in stress management – it might help you find the relief you seek.