When talking about health and wellbeing it is almost impossible anymore to have a conversation that doesn't touch on the importance of stress. It is seen as a villain for all kinds of ailments and appears to be the new norm when it comes to mental states in modern societies. Stress however has a biological function as well. Mother nature didn't invent it just to be a bother. It helps us survive by heightening our senses and improving our performance. Just talking about stress as being one finite concept already doesn't do it justice as the notion of stress is much more nuanced.
A stressor can be loosely defined as anything that challenges and threatens the balance of our bodily systems. And stress consequently is our body's reaction to that stressor. There are two types of stress, commonly referred to as positive and negative stress. Threat Stress or Distress is stress that negatively affects you and Challenge Stress or Eustress is stress that positively affects you. Examples of distress are deadlines, overwhelm, relationship issues, family disagreements, injury, work related problems and worries in general. Examples of eustress on the other hand are exercising, socialising, listening to uplifting music, going on a first date or hoping for a promotion.
While distress can leave us feeling drained, tired and exhausted, eustress leaves us feeling excited, euphoric and satisfied. When experienced in smaller to moderate doses, eustress has the ability to contribute to a number of great benefits:
- Through stepping out of our comfort zone, we grow and develop ourselves and thus change our outlook in life.
- Through bringing additional bursts of energy and positive nerves, we are mentally and physically ready to go and experience high motivation.
- Through that higher motivation, the likelihood of us achieving our goals increases.
- Through that feeling of achievement and challenge, we are left feeling content, engaged and even inspired.
- Through experiencing moderate doses of positive stress responses in our body, our immune system and heart are strengthened and thus our stamina, muscle strength and endurance is supported.
And the great thing is, we can not only experience eustress by intentionally seeking that excitement and rush of energy, but we can also learn how to turn distressing situations into more positive experiences. Now let's stay real, some circumstances are just stressful, regardless of the mindset. Whenever we find ourselves in one of those and suffer from the feelings of negative stress such as feeling helpless, powerless and just downright depleted, we can only make sure to bring our nervous system in balance again by taking a break and giving ourselves rest, thus trying to recover from that stressor as soon as possible. There are stressful situations however, where we have the power of turning a possible very distressing experience into one that appears more exciting and invigorating. All by working on our mindset around the effects of stress.
Indeed we know by now that people that believe stress in general to be harmful for their health exhibit worse mental and physical health conditions than the ones that do not. In short, your perception of stress, whether it is inherently damaging or helpful, determines to a large extent your overall mental and physical wellbeing. The key to having such a positive mindset around stress lies in your acceptance of the stress response and your willingness to accept a challenge. Both build resilience and courage which in turn feel empowering and enhance your mindset about future stressors even more.
In order to strengthen that positive stress mindset of yours there are a couple of steps you can take. First of all you need to become aware of your stressful situation and determine whether or not you find yourself experiencing distress or eustress. One easy way to build that awareness is having a stress diary or simply incorporating a couple of prompts in your current daily journaling routine. What you want to aim at firstly is reflecting on moments that were stressful - ranging from experiencing panic, overwhelm or disappointment to experiencing the uplifting thrill of nerves while tackling the challenge head-on. Secondly you want to reflect on how those moments impacted your life. Those reflections should help you identify topics and themes that trigger distress and eustress within you.
The ultimate goal is to come up with ways that enable you to implement mechanisms switching your distress mindset into eustress thinking. Those mechanisms can range from working on your sleeping routine, breathing and mindfulness exercises, or sports, to working on your self-esteem and level of positive emotions such as gratitude, optimism or empathy. Here again your journaling practice comes in handy. Practising positive self-talk and reaffirming statements are just additional writing tools that help accomplish your desired mindset shift. For more inspiration on journaling prompts, you might want to check out our free Intentional Journaling Guide. Other strategies are being intentionally curious in your conversations in order to uncover hidden purpose and meaning, and ensuring and recognising small successes in order to remind yourself of your strengths and abilities.
Is that mindset shift around stress easy? No. Is it worth it? Yes. Make sure to not expect overnight changes but get excited for a gradual journey towards having an opportunity and growth outlook when experiencing stressful situations. Not just your performance and productivity will benefit, but you will enjoy the mental and physical impacts around enhanced wellbeing as well. Promised…