The word stress has bad vibes. It's common knowledge that being stressed out isn't the World's Greatest Feeling. We're given advice about how to relieve stress, with everyone working under the assumption that it's a bad thing. Except... Not all stress is negative. Experts are now emphasising that there are different kinds of tension, and some types have benefits — especially what's known as eustress.
Stress exists on a spectrum, said Melanie Greenberg, PhD, in an article for Psychology Today. When we use the word stress, we typically mean "distress." That's the negative type — when you're feeling overwhelmed, distraught, or anxious. Eustress is the opposite. It's characterised by feelings of excitement or motivation.
Say, for example, you're going on a first date — maybe even a blind date. You're getting ready to head to your meet-up spot, and hundreds of butterflies are erupting all at once in your stomach. You're nervous, but excited. And after the date is over, you feel good about yourself. What you were experiencing was eustress.
Unlike other types of stress, with eustress, once the thing that was making you feel that buzzy kind of nerviness is over, the brain experiences a relaxation response, Dr. Greenberg explained. That's when a sense of satisfaction kicks in. "We may feel like a better person for having done it, or savour the experience in our memory to revisit later on," she wrote.
While you don't want to be overloaded with any type of stress (or pressure) — even the good kind — moderate amounts of eustress is good for you. It may even boost your physical health, according to a 2013 study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology. The researchers say that it's possible that eustress protects the body from oxidative damage, which is linked to ageing, high blood pressure, and disease, though they don't know exactly why.
Starting to think about certain types of stress as good is also beneficial mentally. Take that first date, or that job interview. If you interpret the butterflies you feel as signs of stress, and you think of that stress as a bad thing, you're setting yourself up to be even more nervous, which can ultimately work against you.
But if you see the flutters as a good thing — a type of excitement, one that may make you feel proud of yourself later on — you can convert your nerves into positive energy that actually helps you. You're prepared, you're excited, and — sure — you're a little anxious. But you know you'll get through it, and feel even better after.