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How To Use Eustress To Help Us Meet Our Personal And Professional Goals

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Stress is a feeling that is common to most of us – we all need our bodies to produce a stress response to survive as it indicates whether we are at threat or not.

This suggests that stress can be a good thing – and it’s not often we hear that!

Fortunately Lisa Gunn, Mental Health Prevention Lead, Nuffield Health is on hand to advise us and according to Lisa, stress is a common experience that we all encounter, and it serves as a crucial indicator of whether we are under threat or not.

While stress is often viewed negatively in terms of its impact on our physical and mental well-being, Lisa explains that not all stress is bad. In fact, there is a type of stress called “eustress,” which has both emotional and physical health benefits.

We are familiar with stress being talked about as a negative experience – such as how it can impact our physical wellbeing and our mental health – however, not all stress is bad. In fact, we can experience positive stress, just as frequently as we do negative stress.

‘Is there really such a thing as ‘good’ stress’?

Medical research has identified a type of stress known as ‘eustress’ – literally translated from the Greek term ‘good stress’ – which has both emotional and physical health benefits.

Some of the examples below are times where we might have experienced this type of stress both in a professional and personal capacity:

·       Taking on a new exercise routine or fitness challenge

·       Planning for a big event or holiday

·       Attending a job interview

·       Preparing to lead a work pitch or presentation.

How is it helpful?

Eustress is the bliss point of stress, in that it’s just the right amount of stress to allow us to live and act outside our comfort zones while boosting our confidence and self-esteem.

When we are faced with challenging situations and experience the stress response it can boost our performance and confidence in the short term. This is because this type of stress is not enduring or chronic, so our systems return to their normal baseline quickly.

By embracing periods of stress in this way, this positive stress response – or eustress – allows us to work more collaboratively and creatively and can reduce our fear of facing future challenges due to exposure to stress and experiencing positive outcomes.

Eustress differs from regular stress with the following characteristics:

·       It only lasts in the short term

·       It energises and motivates

·       It is perceived as something within our coping ability

·       It increases focus and performance

How can we use eustress to our advantage?

Psychologically, eustress helps us build resilience, autonomy and self-efficacy. We can harness the good side of stress to our advantage in the following ways.

One way is to use it to encourage ourselves to set goals that are both challenging and realistic. Start by setting small milestones and, as you start to reach them, you’ll find yourself motivated and getting used to small bouts of regular, positive stress coupled with successful outcomes. 

You may want to set yourself goals such as training for a 5K, or volunteering to take on a new project at work. Within these goals we can look for opportunities which require you to hone your existing strengths or learn new ones. Tracking your progress and reflecting on these goals can help you to hold yourself accountable.

When experimenting with anything new it’s important to get the right balance.  Eustress can be achieved if your goals are realistic, otherwise we can end up feeling more distressed or negatively stressed as we seek to feel better but have taken on too much.  

Exercise is a great way to experiment with maximising feelings of eustress. Exercise will boost your energy whilst achieving your goals. Improving your overall fitness will assist in feeling the positive effects of eustress as the exercise itself helps us to build our resilience against the negative side of stress.

Can eustress turn into negative stress?

When we view the demands placed upon us as exceeding the resources we have to cope, our response to what we wanted to originally be positive can become negative.

When we take on too much or don’t have the capacity to achieve our goals this can lead to feelings of overwhelm which can produce more unpleasant stress sensations similar to what we experience when we feel ‘chronic stress’.

When we are exposed too long to symptoms of chronic stress, it can exacerbate a variety of mental and physical health conditions like anxiety, obesity, insomnia, high blood pressure and even depression.

Experiencing these physical and mental health problems can lead to further impacts on our ability to function day to day including having an impact on our work performance also. 

Symptoms of chronic stress can include:

·       Difficulty making decisions

·       Mood changes (e.g., irritability, tearfulness, agitation)

·       Procrastination and inefficiency when completing tasks

·       Increased absenteeism due to recurring physical symptoms (for example, an upset stomach and headaches)

What support can we get if the balance tips over?

If we are starting to feel the negative symptoms of stress, it’s important to start applying self-care techniques like giving yourself breaks and distractions – things like phoning a friend or going for a long walk. This means that the body gets a rest from the hormones that the stress response creates and keeps our baseline of stress lower.

Introducing stress management techniques into your day can help build and develop your resilience.  These might include mindfulness, meditation, or gentler forms of yoga.  

If you feel you need professional support, make an appointment to speak to your GP. They can advise you about helpful treatments and help you access mental health services.

Also, explore whether your employer provides emotional wellbeing support for staff which can often be accessed more promptly. 

For example, lots of companies provide access to schemes like Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), CBT and counselling which offer direct, confidential contact with experts who can support individuals with situations causing emotional distress.