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Rethink your relationship with stress. It turns out, it's not all bad.

August 16, 2022 - 15 min read


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What is eustress?

Why is eustress important in our lives?

What makes eustress good?

4 causes of eustress

How to turn stress into eustress

How can you tell if it's eustress?

Eustress in the workplace

The importance of finding balance

You could have been walking around thinking that all stress is bad stress until today. Before this moment, you probably believed that all stress does is hurt your well-being and harm your physical health. Take a deep breath and prepare yourself for this next line.

Some stress is beneficial for us. That's what eustress is: good stress.

We've always been taught that stress is something we need to avoid at all costs, but eustress is an exception. It demands balance and effort to harness what eustress can do for us on a short-term basis and supercharge our motivation. 

If you're hesitant about accepting some stress as good stress, we're here to help. We'll walk you through what you need to know about eustress and how you can identify and incorporate it into your life.


What is eustress?

Eustress is a form of stress that's positive for our well-being, mental health, and behaviors. Eustress is a kind of stress that encourages us to try a new hobby, learn new skills, and even step outside our comfort zone. It makes us feel good while we work toward our goals, go through significant life changes, or start new chapters in our lives. It's a stress response that benefits us. 

It all started when endocrinologist Hans Selye published The Stress of Life back in 1956, where he discussed concepts of stress and types of stressors. And 20 years later, he provided more clarity on the characteristics of eustress and differentiated it from distress.

There are also different types of stress like acute or chronic stress. This helped people identify that stress can be beneficial rather than label all stress as something we should reduce.


What is stress classified as?

Eustress does fall under the category of stress, and we can classify stress as our body's response to possible threats. When our body acknowledges change or a potential threat, it floods our brains with stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to trigger our fight-or-flight response. 

While eustress is a form of stress that’s positive for us, it's important to acknowledge what stress can do to our mental and physical health long-term. Stress can cause heart disease, high blood pressure, and hurt our immune system if left untreated.

Anxiety can also result from stress, as we worry more and more about our stress triggers and potential threats. Stress can even impair our memories and how we process information.

If you need help classifying your stress, consider meeting with a BetterUp coach. They can help you identify what kind of stress you're experiencing and how to manage it to prioritize your well-being.

What are some examples of eustress?

You might benefit from some examples of eustress to help you identify it. Here are a few quick scenarios where you might experience eustress:

  • Moving in with your partner or by yourself for the first time
  • Starting your dream job
  • Traveling to a new country

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Why is eustress important in our lives?

Positive feelings are always welcome in daily life, and so too is eustress. A positive mindset is the one to have in our personal and professional lives, and eustress can help with that mindset and motivation.

Eustress gives us the motivation to tackle challenges or everyday tasks. With increased motivation, we'll sustain our efforts to achieve our goals. We’ll have a reason for working hard: to experience the benefits of our success. And when we experience eustress, it usually means that we're in the zone

All of this positive stress helps us channel our energy toward what we value in life. Rather than have all that energy and do nothing with it, eustress makes us take action. Whether by keeping us motivated, focused, or planning, it's all helpful. We can zero in on what we need to do, like stepping outside our comfort zone to accomplish something or knowing when to take a break.

What makes eustress good?

When we experience eustress, it can be a great motivator. But don’t be fooled — it’s still stress. Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are still pumping through your body. Your heart rate can still race, and your hands can get sweaty. You’re just excited as it’s happening.

Our eustress empowers us, which makes it good for developing our resilience. Our eustress helps us manage challenging obstacles and learn that we can overcome whatever’s thrown our way. Then, when we face a new challenge, we’re ready to tackle it head-on and come out stronger.

It’s good for us to learn that sustained action and effort create change. It changes how we develop a plan, adopts a growth mindset, and make things happen for ourselves. We see that we’re capable of accomplishing things — even stressful ones. 

4 causes of eustress

We're always trying to learn what stress is caused by avoiding it and using our coping strategies to reduce our stress. But with eustress, learning the causes can help us take advantage of it. 

Eustress can be unique to each individual because our stressors impact us all differently. But we can identify four causes that apply to us in every stage of life that we experience. Here are four causes of eustress to review:

  1. Temporary situations: These situations can be exciting because we know that they won't last forever. Think about vacations or small day trips to new places. It's something new that you're experiencing, but it's only temporary.
  2. Imminent change: Before you start a new job or move to a new city, there's a period of anticipation. You're so focused on the change that you're about to experience and how exciting it is that eustress helps you adjust when the time comes.
  3. Seeing progress: While you're working so hard on your short-term or long-term goals or even just a big task on your daily to-do list, you’ll feel motivated to keep going. After seeing some progress, you'll know that you're almost done and success is in reach.
  4. Leaving your comfort zone: You're learning whenever you leave your comfort zone. You're taking a risk, but it's showing you how trying new things is positive and something to do often.


How to turn stress into eustress

The American Institute of Stress found that the stress levels of Americans are 20% higher than the global average. We have a lot of stress on our plates, so why not learn how to turn that stress into eustress?

This isn't something you can do easily or all the time. We can't turn all of our distress into eustress, and that's OK. That's why we have other stress management techniques.

But here are five tips for working to change your negative stress into eustress, whenever that’s possible:

  1. Make it a healthy challenge that you're happy to be working toward
  2. Develop a growth mindset that welcomes change and learning new skills
  3. Focus on what kind of outcome you want to have, and make it positive
  4. Take time to evaluate your stressful situation when you have the energy 
  5. Make a point of trying to find a positive aspect in any situation
stress-management-skills_Mar2022_Post02 (1)

How can you tell if it's eustress?

Your emotions can be overwhelming if you don't know how to categorize them. The same goes for stress. You don't always know if the stressful event you're experiencing is good or bad for you. 

But you can learn how to identify it. By tracking your stress, you can identify how much it benefits you and whether or not it counts as eustress. When you're struggling trying to sleep while stressed, it's a good time to evaluate yourself.

Let's review these six ways you can identify if it's eustress or a source of distress for you:

1. Evaluating the energy it gives you: Is the energy that this type of stress is giving you productive, motivating, and encouraging, or is it draining? Eustress motivates and helps you feel productive as you take action, but it shouldn’t exhaust you.

2. Thinking about your focus: The kind of stress that clouds our vision and makes us unsure of what to do isn’t eustress. When you experience eustress, your focus is clear, and you know what you need to accomplish.

3. Reviewing your excitement: Eustress should make you feel excited about whatever change you're experiencing or about to experience. It’s unlike negative stress, which makes you worry, feel anxious, and dread new things. A little bit of anxiety might be normal, like moving, but it shouldn’t dominate the situation.


4. Managing your change: The change you experience should make you work hard, but it shouldn't be impossible. Eustress is manageable with hard work. If you’re too defeated to continue, it’s cause for concern. 

5. Feeling confident in yourself: As you take on your challenges, change, or prepare for it all, how do you feel about yourself? Is your self-esteem plummeting, or do you feel confident in yourself? Confidence is key when it comes to eustress and how it makes us feel. And the accomplishments eustress causes should boost your self-worth. 

6. Expecting something positive or negative: When going into any stressful situation, you often think about the outcome. If you're dwelling on only the worst-case scenarios happening, it's not eustress. With eustress, you see it as an exciting learning opportunity for yourself. Why worry about what could go wrong when you can focus on what will go right?

Eustress in the workplace

Since we can feel stressed everywhere, it's important to highlight areas where eustress is beneficial. We're going to take a look at some examples of what eustress is at work since it's a place where it can make a difference in our lives. Work stress can spill into our personal lives, so we need to learn how to manage work-related stress and identify whether it's negative or positive.

Occupational stress can severely impact how people work and how businesses retain employees. In fact, a survey by the American Psychological Association found that 63% of US workers were ready to quit their jobs to avoid workplace stress. But when stress is positive, it can be a great thing.

Employees are motivated to be more productive, focus on their work, and feel proud of what they produce.

We might already be experiencing eustress at work, but here are five examples to review:

  1. Getting a promotion, which means being part of the management
  2. Working on a project that's important for your workplace
  3. Working with a brand new client that nobody has experience with 
  4. Taking on a new project that demands you to learn new skills and adapt
  5. Being reassigned to work with a new team in a different department

The importance of finding balance

What eustress is and does for us can be very beneficial for our lives. It's a stress response that evokes positive feelings and can help us work with a more focused mindset. Sometimes we don't know what our stressors will exactly do to us, but now we know that some of them are good. 

Even though eustress is positive, we need to work to find a healthy balance in our lives. We can't always be positive and refuse to see the negative sides of stress. Too much eustress still isn't good for us. We need to find what will bring us sustainable stress relief

Rather than overwhelm ourselves with eustress, we can acknowledge and manage our distress. 

Managing your stress isn't something you have to do alone. BetterUp can help you find coping strategies that work best for you and create a healthy balance between eustress and other types of stress you experience.

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Published August 16, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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