It is often said that stress is bad for us. On the other hand, some people will say that stress can actually be a positive thing. What are we to believe?
Dr Richard Lazarus coined the term Eustress to describe short-term stress that is perceived as being within our coping abilities and which motivates us to grow and achieve, thereby resulting in greater fulfillment and other positive feelings.
Distress, on the other hand, is stress that is perceived as being outside our coping abilities and which causes us anxiety or concern either over the short term or over the long term. It decreases our performance and if experienced frequently or chronically can lead to physical and mental problems.
What is perceived as Eustress or Distress will vary from person to person. One person may be very excited by the prospect of starting a new job, whereas another would feel out of their depth – even if their abilities are objectively very similar. It is the person’s perception of their ability to cope that determines whether they will experience Eustress or Distress. The good news is that even if we currently feel very limited in our ability to cope, we can learn to see stressful situations as challenges we can overcome; reframing things in this way will provide positive benefits for our physical and mental health in the long term.
This Ted-Ed cartoon illustrates the long-term effects of distress on our bodies, and how we can choose to respond to stressful situations in ways which will benefit our long-term health.