We have often heard the term ‘stress’ being used in negative connotation and therefore have started associating it with issues and problems. But that is just one side of the story. Stress as a word is neutral in nature. Moreover, given the right circumstances, stress can actually be good for us. Let’s know more about how we can use stress for our benefit.
Stress basically refers to “our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event.” What contributes to stress can vary enormously from person to person and differs according to our social standing, economic circumstances, the environment we live in and our biological makeup. But these “responses” can be either positive or negative in nature. The negative stress is called as ‘Distress’ and the positive stress is called as ‘Eustress’
According to Hans Selye, a Hungarian endocrinologist, who initially coined the term eustress, “stress can be healthy and can give one a feeling of fulfillment or other positive feelings.” When we encounter stress, our body is trigerred to produce stress hormones that generate a ‘flight or fight’ response and activate our immune system. This response helps us to respond quickly to dangerous situations. The resulting feeling of ‘pressure’ can help us to push through situations that can be nerve-wrecking or intense. We can, then, quickly return to a resting state without any negative effects on our health.
Ways in which stress makes us Better
- A Source of Zeal: Dr.Daniel Kirsch, President of the American Institute of Stress, feels that positive aspects of stress are often neglected. “Events like marriage or a job promotion are stressful situations but in a positive way. We may feel stressed and a little afraid but we’re also excited.” It is not right to avoid eustress as it is what gives life meaning and hope.
- Improves Memory: Under short-term stress, a hormone Cortisol spikes, which acts as a light bulb in the brain. Suddenly we are able to think more clearly. According to study conducted in 2013 at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico, the working memory in particular improved in participants experiencing stress-induced rises in cortisol compared with those who had no increase. “An example of working memory is your ability to remember the correct numbers when a friend gives you her telephone number,” says lead researcher Melissa Stauble. Thus stress can expand our capacity to grasp in terms of quality and quantity.
- Enhances Creativity: When it come to being creative about anything, whether it’s writing something or developing a new strategy for work, eustress helps us achieve that by helping us focus our thoughts. It puts us in the moment and our mind is able to tune out the distractions more easily. We are also more willing to take chances, which give us the courage to express creative ideas in a better way.
- Makes us Alert: The stress response that is the body’s hormonal reaction to danger, uncertainty or change has evolved to help us survive. In the short term, stress gives us both the physical and mental energy needed to handle the situation at hand. For example, it can make us more vigilant for threats when we’re driving or make us feel more ‘on’ during a job interview. It helps us be more active and aware in terms to responding to our surroundings.
- Enhances Motivation: While heightened stress can feel overwhelming and decrease motivation, a little bit can go a long way when it comes to kick starting your work. Medium levels of stress can enhance our motivation. For example, the stress of a deadline can help people focus and pay more attention by putting the ‘fight or flight’ response to work.
- Builds Resilience and Growth: While stress can feel overwhelming, it also forces us to solve problems, ultimately building confidence. With increased resiliency and confidence,we tend to feel less threatened and more in control of our situations. Allison Berwald, a licensed clinical social worker in New York City, says that “using stress to face our fears or challenges can also help us work through experiences instead of avoiding them. After facing a fear, we will feel more equipped to handle it in the future, since we have already experienced it” she says.
- Makes us Social: In a 2012 study, researchers at the University of Freiburg in Germany reported that subjects who were put under stress, either by public speaking or having to complete a math test, showed significantly more positive social behavior than controlled subjects who were not places in stressful situations. They were also more likely to trust others, behave reliably, and share resources.
How to Optimize our Eustress?
- Being Vigorous: We should give a 100% to any activity or exercise that we do – no matter how big or small and keep trying to do it better every time. This is a great way to experience eustress.
- Learn Something New: It doesn’t matter what it is or how long it takes or if we make mistakes along the way, as long as it helps us move forward.
- Put More at Work: This could mean developing a new skill or honing an existing skill, or simply trying a new way to be heard in a meeting. Anything that improves our performance at workspace can contribute largely in eustress.
- Learning about New Cultures: When we travel, we are out of our comfort zone so let’s push ourselves to learn about the places we travel to. A similar phenomenon goes into learning a new language or about new cuisines.
Some stress is desirable and even necessary, because that’s how we demonstrate agency, that we are active in the world. Without challenge comes boredom. A life with zero stress is not a life worth living.
We can learn to love our eustress, but we still need and deserve our downtime. Even though it’s positive stress, we can still have too much of it. While too little spice produces a bland and dull meal; too much may choke us. The same thing can be applied to stress too.
However, eustress is the spark that drives us to achieve more, to improve the quality of our life, to ask for a raise, to fight for justice, or simply go on a holiday. If we wipe out the stress, we’d also likely wipe away a lot of the meaning in our lives.