By Johan Jeson
Zooming through each day with countless meetings, endless projects, and prolonged texts our lives tend to experience stress. But is there another side to this seemingly mind-boggling phenomenon that motivates us to complete tasks and perform with efficiency? Enters Eustress! The key factor in human productivity and cognitive growth.
Stress is universal yet responses towards stress vary from one individual to another. (Credit: Odysseyonline.com)
A concept discovered by the renowned endocrinologist, Hans Selye, Eustress emerged in mainstream media as the opposite of distress. Eustress is commonly called good stress or even positive stress because of its unique functionality in empowering individuals to overcome challenges and get work done. Eustress is the feeling of urgency that propels you to finish up a paper that is due in 20 minutes while making sure you used Grammarly:) or that night when you rushed to clean up the room right before the guests arrived! Jokes aside, Eustress plays a pivotal role in helping humans respond to the ever-changing environment. The process of eustress involves a stimulant that triggers a chain of chemical reactions within the human body which activates the sympathetic nervous system. A gush of hormones (mainly cortisol and & norepinephrine) flows through the body and elevates heart rate while increasing afferent neuron input (Smith, 2020). When stressed, afferent neurons receive a high volume of sensory signals from the external environment and transmit it to the brain. This leads to a heightened state of awareness that fuels energy and boosts focus (Smith, 2020). These processes are similar in nature to the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. Even though the body is tense and alert, the ensuing emotions as a result of eustress tend to be excitement and thrill rather than fear and apprehension because the individual does not feel overwhelmed when facing difficult tasks that are achievable. According to the Yerkes Dodson’s law, there’s an optimal stage where arousal and performance are at their peak (Gino, 2016). Arousal is the initial point of stress development which is important for people to experience since it sets up the mind and body to respond to the challenges at hand. However, too much arousal leads to an accumulation of stress which causes exhaustion and trepidation. Too little arousal due to a lack of stress gives rise to boredom and discontent which makes people more error-prone (Gino, 2016). Eustress is right in between distress and no-stress since it requires a moderate level of arousal but it does not hamper performance, only elevates it.
Effects of Eustress
Eustress promotes positivity and drives social connectivity in humans (Ted, 2013). Higher levels of self-esteem and self-efficacy are seen in individuals who have had eustress (Lindberg, 2019). Eustress relieves people from irrational thoughts of doom and bolsters clarity in judgment. Flow, which is characterized as the peak of concentration and engagement in an activity, is best observed in individuals who experience eustress (Smith, 2020). The biological benefits of eustress are countless since this magical condition correlates with a reduction in chronic stress, depression, cardiovascular disease, and immunodeficiencies which ultimately lowers the likelihood of premature death. The joy that is derived from confronting a problem and solving it effectively unleashes a new desire for people to learn and succeed. Determination and tenacity are quality values that stem from eustress. The stumbling block (challenge) that instilled dread and worry now becomes the stepping stone (opportunity) that paves way for rejuvenation and growth all because of Eustress.
Stress is active and alive in humans each day. However, the very notion of stress being bad only exacerbates the problem. The negative perception of stress can actually amplify illnesses far more than the stress-inducing environment since the body does what the mind instructs. From panic attacks to heartburns to serious pathological conditions, stress can unveil a host of ailments that directly affects the health and wellbeing of individuals. Choosing to believe that life is hopeless and stress is dangerous only makes matters worse. However, when people view stress as necessary and beneficial for development, the problem disappears! Basically, whenever you face conflict don’t let the unpleasant situation dictate your thoughts. Instead, fine-tune your mind and think about the good that comes out of the conflict and how it can build your character and shape your resilience (Ted, 2013). The moment people embrace and accept stress, growth sprouts forth. In a fascinating TED Talk called ‘How to make stress your friend’ health psychologist Kelly McGonigal says that when people think better about stress their body’s physical response to stress improves (Ted, 2013). She goes onto talk about a Harvard University study that recorded a significant change in the physical stress response of participants who were encouraged to think about their stress in a different light (Ted, 2013). These participants interpreted loud heartbeats as the response mechanism that prepared the body for action while rapid breathing as the body’s efforts to haul in more oxygen from the atmosphere into the brain (Ted, 2013). The results revealed that the blood vessels of the participants who thought positively about their stress didn’t constrict rather it maintained a healthy shape when compared to those who had perceived negatively about their stress response (Ted, 2013). These results sparked a radical change in the way people thought about stress and health.
Stressful events can’t be eliminated but our thoughts toward stress can definitely change and aid us in preserving sanity while bridging strong bonds if we choose to consider stress a good thing.
Smith, T. J. (2020, March 8). What is eustress and how is it different from stress? Positive Psychology. Retrieved August 08, 2020, from https://positivepsychology.com/what-is-eustress/
Lindberg, S. (2019, January 3). Eustress: The good stress. Healthline. Retrieved August 08, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/eustress
Gino, F. (2016, April 14). Are you too stressed to be productive? Or not stressed enough? Harvard Business Review. Retrieved August 08, 2020, from https://hbr.org/2016/04/are-you-too-stressed-to-be-productive-or-not-stressed-enough
Ted. (2013, September 4). How to make stress your friend | Kelly McGonigal. YouTube. Retrieved August 08, 2020, from https://youtu.be/RcGyVTAoXEU