As briefly mentioned in our previous post, psychological stress can actually serve a positive purpose. This post will explore the positive and negative facets of stress. When we say psychological stress, we are not talking about our ‘fight or flight’ response, which we know serves a very important evolutionary purpose, we are talking about the stress that creeps up on us, gradually, alerting us of our looming deadlines, upcoming presentations, or other important circumstances requiring our attention. It is a kind of pressure we feel to perform, take charge, and be proactive. Albeit that our bodies don’t know the difference between physical threat and this kind of psychological pressure, we still end up with the same influx of hormones and physiological reaction, but in appropriate doses, stress can actually help us perform optimally in everyday life situations.
The Positive Side of Stress
Much of the literature recognizes two types of stress; ‘Eustress and Distress.’ Eustress is defined as the good stress that keeps us motivated, challenged and productive. It affords us the focus we need to accomplish important goals. Eustress can also be characterized as excitement; a most positive emotion. Dullness and stress, for example, are what we call ‘incompatible states’ in psychology, i.e. you cannot be both bored and stressed at the same time. What’s more, stress almost always accompanies life’s best and most significant moments, such as graduation, marriage, world travel, beginning a new job, having a family, etc. Finally, feeling stress about something, even if you are initially unsure of the stimulus, implies that you care about it; it is important to you, and this can be a positive thing.
The Negative Side of Stress
Now, distress occurs when eustress exceeds our threshold and becomes excessive. With distress, we can no longer concentrate on important matters and become overwhelmed by pressure. This clouds our judgments and impedes on our ability to organize our thoughts, think critically, and make a viable plan of action. We become discouraged, unproductive, and spin our wheels in an attempt to both relieve our unpleasant stressful state, and still attempt to get our work done. This is the dark side of stress that could lead to the adverse effects on our mental and physical health, we discussed in our previous post.
With regard to stress, the ‘Yerkes-Dodson Principle’ states that productivity is optimal at moderate levels of stress. If too low on either end of the spectrum (not enough stress, or too much stress) performance declines and productivity suffers. As such, the goal with stress should never be to eliminate it from our lives entirely, that would be unrealistic, but rather, to establish functional levels that are manageable for us in our day to day lives, avoid reaching distress, and adopt effective stress management practices we will share in future posts.
We hope you have found this post helpful. Join us next week for the many causes of stress and why some of us are more vulnerable to it than others.