Stress gets a bit of a bad rap.
That’s for good reason. Excess stress and the tip into burnout is not a healthy, enjoyable experience, and when you’re becoming overwhelmed, the mind and body’s stress response can be downright destructive.
But not all stress is created equal.
While we might mentally link ‘stress’ with concepts like anxiety and exhaustion, there is such a thing as positive stress, too.
This is also known as eustress, and is essentially the same physical thing as stress, but with excitement, rather than nerves.
Think about how you feel on your wedding day, when you’re around someone you really fancy, or when you’re about to take a risk you’re really pumped about.
You get warm. Your internal monologue is going a mile a minute. Your heart races.
All that is the same reaction to a stressor, whether it’s positive or negative.
And that type of positive stress reaction isn’t something to be avoided.
Gail Marra, a clinical hypnotherapist and author of Health, Wealth & Hypnosis, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Positive or negative, the hormones produced are the same.
‘Our stress response, also known as fight or flight, is key to our survival – without it, we wouldn’t have lasted very long as a species.
‘While negative stress can be overwhelming, preventing you from thinking straight, positive stress can get you into a flow state, into the zone.’
It’s tempting to fear stress and steer clear of it at all costs. But sometimes simply reframing those feelings as excitement can make a massive difference.
Gail encourages us to lean into that feeling, too, suggesting that having eustress in our lives can pose real benefits. Here are a few…
Stress keeps us motivated
If you’re totally free of stress, you’ll be in stasis, sitting and relaxing for all of time.
To actually get stuff done, you need a bit of stress – the key is to strike the right balance between motivated to act and so stressed out you’re frozen in place.
‘Stress is quite literally a call to action,’ says Gail. ‘When you release adrenaline (one of your fight or flight hormones) your heart and lungs get a jump start, sending oxygen to your brain and major muscles, giving you a boost of strength and enhancing vision and hearing. Think SAS, elite athletes… 007, you get the drift.‘
Don’t worry, you don’t need to be doing major physical feats to make the most of this benefit. That little bit of stress, when viewed correctly, can motivate to accomplish other tasks, too.
‘Positive stress can give you motivation,’ says Dr Becky Spelman, psychologist and the clinical director of Private Therapy Clinic.
She notes that the key is feeling the pressure but not letting you swallow you whole.
‘You know that you’re under pressure but you’re confident of your ability to tackle the issue or problem at hand,’ says Becky. ‘It may be challenging but you still feel it’s realistically possible to achieve or solve. You know that there is an end to the stress and if that you just take action, you’ll be able to sort it all out.’
Stress can help you solve problems
Accepting and embracing stress can help you cut through the faff and make better decisions.
Gail tells us: ‘Stress forces us into problem solving. When you are in a flow state, your subconscious mind is wide open, fully engaged, on the hunt for solutions.
”When you are in a tight spot, your subconscious and conscious mind join forces and go into hyper-drive. At lightning speed, you’re weighing up your options, looking for opportunities, making decisions and choices all within seconds. You’re in a pickle, a jam, you act now, think later.
‘Often referred to as “The 5-Second Rule” whereby instead of overthinking and being hijacked by fear, you have this amazing five second window, in order to be courageous.’
Overcoming stress builds confidence
That adrenaline rush that comes after you overcome a stressful situation is straight up euphoric.
But in the long-term, too, getting through a stressful moment can bolster your self-belief.
You’ve managed to do this, so you can do anything.
‘These thoughts and feelings release endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, your feelgood hormones,’ says Gail.
Stress can help you to develop new skills
We’ll say it again: excess, destructive stress is not conducive for learning.
But a little bit of healthy stress can help to cement ideas in your mind.
Plus, once you’ve figured out how to solve an issue in the midst of stress, you’ve developed skills to do it again and tackle new problems.
Positive stress can give your health a boost
‘Positive stress can improve your health (in the short term),’ explains Gail. ‘Everyone knows that chronic stress is contrary to good health, however cortisol, another hormone produced when we are stressed, increases the release of sugar (glucose) into the bloodstream which in turn helps to repair tissue, reduce inflammation, enhance memory formulation, as well as helping to regulate salt and water balance to control blood pressure.’
You’ll notice a common theme in all these benefits: they’re only delivered if the stress you experience is positive, processed healthily, and doesn’t cross the line into causing harm.
This isn’t a free pass to put up with a stress spiral, and you should absolutely take steps to ensure that stress isn’t taking over your life. While a little stress is healthy, it needs to be balanced with that no-stress relaxation and recovery time.
But what you can take from this is that in moments of smaller, more manageable stress, it can be helpful to reframe those feelings as beneficial, rather than big and scary.
Gail tells us: ‘As with most things, moderation is key when dealing in stress.
‘How you perceive stress determines how it will affect you. You can feel the adrenaline mounting, rip open your shirt and rise to the challenge, or you can allow the feeling to overwhelm and consume you.
‘Next time you find yourself feeling negatively stressed, notice it, take a few deep breaths, and rather than let it take charge of you, take charge of it. With practice and with patience, you can choose how to deploy your stress hormones.’
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