Everyone experiences stress. The assumption most of us make is that all stress is bad stress. Stress, however, can be good for us when it’s moderated and motivating. What exactly is positive stress and how do we know the difference between stress that harms us and stress that helps us? 

Positive stress is called “eustress.” Unknowingly, we often experience it as often as we encounter bad stress, or “distress.” Exciting or stressful events cause a chemical reaction in our body and it shows up as “nerves” or a burst of energy. In small doses, this positive stress has a helpful impact on our wellbeing. 

Challenges the status quo

Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is an unexpected positive stress benefit. Personal growth happens when we step out of the familiar and rise to a new challenge or experience. The adrenaline rush or burst of energy provides fuel to change and propel us forward in life.

Supports motivation

The energy and nerves that accompany positive stress can sustain motivation to complete a challenging task. Whether it’s cramming for a last minute test or work project, stress can motivate us to hit deadlines and finish to-do’s. In some cases, it boosts memory, making it useful for recall. Positive stress also helps us build self-efficacy, autonomy, and resilience.

Goals achievement

Positive stress can lead some people toward greater efficiency. The crunch of procrastination and deadlines can lead to productivity under pressure. For some, the positive stress emotions experienced at “crunch time” help them accomplish their goals and finish their to-do’s better than most.

Supports mood

Overall wellbeing and life contentment are another effect of positive stress. Feeling challenged each day leads to engagement, excitement, and even contentment with what tomorrow will bring. Positive stress builds emotional resilience, which leads to more contentment, inspiration, motivation, and flow.

Improves physical health

Our physical health reaps the benefits of positive stress, too. Research suggests that our immune system is strengthened under moderate stress. Our heart works better and our body is better protected from infection. Positive stress has also led some to recover more quickly from surgery. The strain of a hard workout like lifting weights also improves your physical health as the positive stress encourages strength, stamina, and muscle growth.

Serves as a warning signal

The fight or flight response associated with stress was designed to keep us safe in the face of danger. In the modern world, we experience when we need to hit the brakes quickly or jump out of the way of an oncoming car. As our blood pressure and heart rate quickens, we have a laser-like focus on our surroundings and our survival. 

It might not always be easy to identify the difference between positive stress and bad stress, so look for these warning signs to know when your wellbeing needs attention: 

  • Inability to concentrate or complete tasks
  • Get sick more often with colds 
  • Body aches
  • Other illnesses like autoimmune diseases flare up
  • Headaches
  • Irritability 
  • Trouble falling sleeping or staying awake
  • Changes in appetite
  • More angry or anxious than usual

Learning to see positive stress in our lives requires a new mindset. Understanding how positive stress affects our wellbeing is a step toward reframing a negative word into a positive one.