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Distress vs. Eustress… What Kind of Stress Do You Like?


When we use the word stress, usually we are implying that stress is a purely negative thing.  But not all stress is the same.  To generalize, there are two different types of stress.  Distress and Eustress.  Distress is stress that is unwanted. It causes anxiety, painful tension or pressure, strain and suffering.  It is negative and detrimental to you.  Eustress on the other hand is stress that is perceived as positive or beneficial by the person experiencing it.  It is stress that is experienced as wanted, fulfilling, meaningful, exciting, and a pleasurable tension or pressure.  Eustress most commonly occurs when we are facing a new and wanted challenge.  Eustress tends to occur when we feel we are adequate for the task and therefore confident and positively stimulated by the challenge.  Whereas distress tends to occur when we feel overwhelmed because we feel that we are not adequate for the task, lack the necessary resources to meet the demand and are therefore not confident.  Eustress is necessary for personal growth.  Distress is an oppositional force to health and wellbeing.

Being so unique, all people tend to have a different experience with what causes them distress vs. eustress.  This is especially true when it comes to your purpose.  The experience that someone has when they are ‘made for’ a certain kind of stress makes that stress trend towards the eustress vs. distress category.  So you can understand what I mean, I’ll give you some examples:

  • One person might find the experience of having a person’s life in their hands and having to focus with so much intensity and be so precise and perfect with every movement around them, because one tiny slip up could kill that person, tormenting.  Even the idea of being in this scenario could push them into distress immediately.  Another person could feel stimulated and fulfilled and fueled by this experience.  A surgeon is this person for example.
  • One person might find the pressure of planning and organizing overwhelming and uptight and restricting and painful, like it sucks all of the energy out of life.  Another person could find it a rewarding challenge, a way of gaining a sense of control and influence over their experience, a way of creating purity as opposed to chaos, a way of sensing accomplishment, as well as grounding and satiating.
  • One person might find the idea of taking a test so distressing that they can’t sleep and are vomiting before they do it.  Another person could love the feeling of being tested and experience the tension of having to get things correct and compete for a high score to be fun and make them feel more alive and focused.
  • One person might find the idea of being on stage in front of people terrifying and begin to hyperventilate.  Another might enjoy the pressure to perform and entertain and revel in the confidence they feel when they are able to capture everyone’s attention and make them laugh or cry.
  • One person might hate travel and find it unpredictable and threatening.  Another might love the excitement of the adventure and the challenge of having to figure things out in a whole new place.

Eustress is not always comfortable.  It does not always feel good.  But it does not cause distress.  Instead, it is stress that feels productive.  It is a form of pressure that is wanted and therefore chosen.  An even more advanced form of this is pain that is chosen.  To learn about that, you can watch my video titled: Want to Succeed? What Pain Will You Say Yes To?

When it comes to developing self-awareness and identifying your purpose and correct path of growth, it is important to know what naturally causes you to feel eustress.  It is also important to know that certain factors can determine whether we perceive something as eustress or distress.  For example, if you grew up in a family where there were huge consequences for speaking your mind, that association you have with voicing your opinion may cause you to feel distress during a debate instead of the eustress of the mental chess game that you might otherwise feel.

Also, certain factors can turn something we would normally experience as eustress into distress.  For example, a person may naturally feel eustress pushing their body towards some athletic achievement.  But if they get sick, suddenly pushing their body might cause them distress.

Perhaps the biggest determiner of whether someone experiences distress vs. eustress is whether they actually want to do the thing that they are doing or not.  When we feel forced to do something that we don’t want to do, we naturally feel distress.

We can change our perceptions about the things that we are doing, which means that there is a way to alleviate distress and to even change your experience of distress into eustress instead.  We feel distress instead of eustress when we perceive something to be a threat rather than a challenge.  And we can change our perception that something is a threat.  We can turn things into a welcome and positive challenge instead.  But being attuned to what naturally causes you eustress (instead of trying to make something feel good to you that currently feels distressing to you) is a very important part of identifying your personal purpose and intrinsic interests and intrinsic motivations.  And so, I will leave you with these questions: What stress do you naturally find pleasurable?  Have you noticed anything that feels distressing to others that instead feels like a good challenge to you?






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