How to distinguish between good and bad stress

How to distinguish between good and bad stress

Posted: Mon 29th Apr 2024

All organic living systems seek to be in balance and we humans are no different. When our system is in balance, in mind and body, we think, feel and act our best.

In the process of seeking balance, we're in constant flux, adapting to the ever-changing environment that we live in. When our environment becomes too demanding or challenging and we have fewer resources to deal with the challenges and changes (especially a lack of self-belief), our balance is disrupted and we feel stressed.

Two types of stress

There are many sources of stress, but some of the most common include:

  • work

  • relationships

  • suffering discrimination

  • illness

  • being in education

  • marriage or divorce

  • becoming a parent

Add on top of those the juggling of daily life roles or tasks.

A certain amount of stress on our system is motivating and encourages us to dig deeper, adapt accordingly and find the resources and strengths we didn't know we had. This includes learning new things about oneself and growing from our experiences. When stress enhances function, it's called eustress and we feel good.

But if the pressure is persistent and unrelenting, when our demands outweigh the resources we have to cope, stress worsens our function and we can no longer adapt. This results in distress and anxiety, often followed by fatigue and depression.

If this level of stress continues, we eventually burn out. Burnout is a combination of exhaustion, disengagement, detachment, or even feelings of numbness.

Do you believe stress is harming your health?

Stress isn't bad for your health per se, but believing that stress is bad for your health is bad for your health!

How you think about stress matters. This is important in accepting how normal and universal it is for our bodies to respond automatically to particular situations. Try to distinguish between good stress and bad stress in relation to your own life. Reflect on how long and how frequent stressful moments are for you.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does stress inspire or demotivate me?

  • How is my self-esteem at present and does this in any way relate to my stress levels?

  • What type of impact do I think stress is having on my life overall?

How the stress response affects your body

The threats, or stressors, we come across in modern life (bills, extra work, or a disgruntled partner, for example) don't require physical action. Yet this is what our body is programmed to do when our brain perceives a problem. It revs up producing energy that has nowhere to go because we don't actually need to move.

Quite often, our brain ramps up and responds to worry. Our heart rate and breathing rate increase too to fuel our muscles. The adrenaline we produce demands more oxygen but because we don't use the oxygen appropriately (we aren't actually fleeing or fighting!), this gives rise to dizziness, tingling and sometimes disorientation.

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