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STRESS: The Difference Between Eustress and Distress

By Tasha Broomhall

Is it possible to turn our stress into a positive energy that we can use to improve performance? How can we manage stress so that it doesn’t overwhelm us? 

What is stress?

Stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed personal and social resources that the individual is able to mobilise.

Richard S Lazarus

Some stress in our life is a good thing.  Would you have come to work today if you weren’t being paid for it? The stress of having to pay your bills and support your lifestyle means you drag your butt out of bed and go to work. A truck racing down the road towards you will bring a natural feeling of stress and kick in the fight, freeze or flight response (hopefully you get the flight response if it’s a truck hurtling towards you!) 

When we experience stress, our reactions are primarily governed by the area of the brain that controls our fight or flight reactions – the amygdala. When stressed, the brain is flooded with the stress hormone cortisol. This can be very helpful when we’re in danger and need to react swiftly, but it is not so good if we are stressed so frequently that our brains are reacting in this way constantly, even when there is no real danger.

When can stress be a good thing?

Working on a project that stretches your skills and requires you to research and analyse new aspects of your expertise can be a positive example of how stress can be utilised to improve your performance. Yerkes-Dodson Law or The Inverted U-Model examines the use of stress to increase or paralyse performance.

On the left hand side of the curve, we call the increased arousal that leads to increased performance eustress. And on the right hand side, where the increased arousal is negatively affecting your performance we call it distress.

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To start understanding stress and minimising its negative effects, this month, reflect on how eustress affects you? Do you get energised by doing things at the last minute? Does a deadline help you to perform? If so, maximise this by ensuring that when you have a deadline you will have the resources (time and attention) to dedicate to it at the last minute. If you’re more energised by planning and progress, do the same, how can you ensure you maximise this? If you’re waiting on work or input from others, can you give them an earlier deadline so that it doesn’t leave you responding at the last minute?

Pay attention to what conditions create eustress, and what creates distress for you.  And check out our Are you Stressed or are you Blooming? quiz below for more information

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