Everyone has felt stress, at some point, during the course of his or her life. It is a word that can arguably be used to define the effect that hard working, everyday life has on the majority of individuals in society. As we grow older and begin to accept more and more responsibility in our lives, the potential for stress and stressful situations grows almost by the week.
In some of the worst cases, a buildup of stress that is not eased or addressed can lead to a breakdown of both physical and mental health. This is the major reason why adrenal fatigue has become such a common phenomenon in today’s world. However, though the very nature of the word seems to suggest otherwise, there is such a thing as ‘good stress’. It is really important to understand which life events and situations are bad stress and which are good stress.
What is bad stress?
Bad stress can also be termed as distress, and manifests itself in a chronic or ongoing stress that begins to hinder your everyday life and stops you from completing tasks that you need to undertake.
This particular type of stress, if not relieved, can be extremely detrimental to your health. Elevated levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are fine in the short term, but in the long run they lead to weakened adrenals and a dysregulated HPA axis.
The body’s immune system can be particularly affected by bad stress, leading to a far greater susceptibility to illnesses such as colds, coughs and flu. In more serious cases both the digestive system and reproductive system begin are affected. Research has also linked bad stress to ailments including depression, heart disease, weight gain and memory loss.
There are multiple reasons why we might start to experience bad stress. Among the most common are trouble in a romantic relationship, uncomfortably high demands in the work environment, and the tragic and upsetting loss of member of the family or a close friend.
There are a number of techniques that are widely practiced for the relief of such stress. These include classic breathing exercises, physical exercise and meditation. There are also more metaphysical approaches that include accepting change and attempting to compartmentalize it in order to make it much more manageable.
What is good stress?
Good stress is also known by the term eustress, and is a type of mild stress that people experience on a regular basis. Instead of debilitating them, it will inspire and propel them to complete a given task or goal. Instead of being harmful and detrimental to the body, it has been proven that mild bouts of eustress have been shown to actually enhance and improve cognitive brain function. Crucially, it only manifests itself for a short period. This refreshes the body’s fight or flight response without prolonging and weakening it.
Eustress occurs during events and moments in an individual’s life when a degree of motivation is needed to overcome a potentially difficult obstacle, but an obstacle that is inherently manageable. Examples of such an obstacle include working hard to meet a deadline for an essay or for a presentation of work, preparing for a test whether it be an exam or a more practical venture like a driving test, or finding the confidence to write and give a speech in front of a large crowd of people.
Eustress is usually defined by the excitement associated with identifying and overcoming an obstacle. Compare this to distress, which does not give the individual a feeling of well being and relief directly afterwards, but instead propels them into a vicious cycle that wears down the mind and body.
The body gains huge benefit from regular instances of good stress, as the individual feels a brief period of elevated worry which is then quickly transformed in to relaxation once the given task is completed. Because the body has ample to time to recover after the process is completed, eustress can be seen as an invigorating experience that keeps the mind sharp and the body in good physical condition.
How can you identify good stress and bad stress?
If you are under stress, it is often very difficult to determine whether it is good stress or bad stress. It is very difficult to make blanket statements, because we each react to different events in a deeply personal and unique way. For example, let’s look at public speaking. Some find it a fairly easy challenge, and enjoy a pleasant sense of achievement once it is done. Others will dread it for weeks in advance, and merely feel tired and relieved once it is over.
That’s why it is up to us all as individuals to determine what kind of stress we are under. If it makes us feel invigorated, challenged and motivated, it is probably good stress. If it leaves us tired, worn and unenthusiastic, it is probably bad stress. One of the keys to avoiding or recovering from adrenal fatigue to eliminate as much of this bad stress as possible.