Good Stress vs. Bad Stress
Both good and bad stress can cause your body to secrete certain hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones can cause a racing heart, rapid breathing, sweaty hands, and butterflies in your stomach, among other things.
Known by mental health professionals as eustress and distress, the two types of stress can have different effects on you.
Eustress, or good stress, typically has a positive effect and gives you an upbeat outlook. This type of stress might even encourage you to feel motivated and enthusiastic about making a change in your life. Good stress can often leave you feeling energized and able to overcome adversity, illness, or anything challenging that comes your way.
Distress, on the other hand, is what most of us think about when we talk about stress. It’s that overwhelming, anxiety-inducing, nerve-wracking form of stress that can leave you feeling debilitated and unable to focus, complete tasks, or face challenges.
“The common misconception is that all stress is bad stress. This isn’t always the case, and it’s important to recognize that stress can mean different things in certain situations. Understanding the differences between good (eustress) and bad (distress) will help in managing these stressors in different ways.”
Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC
What is good stress?
Good stress typically doesn’t last long. It’s a short-term, fight-or-flight phenomenon that drives you to accomplish greater goals. During times when you’re under good stress, you’ll feel as if you have a lot of control over the outcome of tasks you take on. Good stress can help you perform better.
Eustress occurs when you feel excited, like when you’re watching a thriller or on a fast roller coaster. It causes feelings of invigoration and excitement. A first date is an excellent example of eustress.
When you’re in a period of eustress, your heart rate quickens, your breathing thins out, and your hormones kick into high gear, even though there’s no real, dangerous threat present. Good stress helps you focus your energy and achieve more success and happiness in your life.
Good stress examples include:
- Going on a first date
- Approaching a deadline
- Starting a new job
- Anticipating an upcoming test or exam
- Preparing for an important speech
- The birth of a child
- Buying a new house
These and other types of good stress offer short bouts of motivation to help you achieve your goals and overcome the obstacles in your way. Even though stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline still flood into the body, the effects aren’t long-lasting enough to cause any actual harm.
What is bad stress?
Bad stress is generally not short term. More often than not, it’s chronic and draining. It can slow you down and significantly detract from your quality of life. Distress can stop you from being able to accomplish your goals. Ultimately, it’s very damaging because it never gives you a chance to recuperate from the fight-or-flight effects your body’s undergoing. You live in a constant state of threat.
Unaddressed, distress can cause your body and brain to suffer. That fight-or-flight response that may initially give you a beneficial edge will become detrimental.
For example, while focusing on a deadline can cause good stress that enhances performance, constantly feeling under stress about never-ending deadlines can lead to decreased performance.
Good stress allows for time in between bouts of stress to recuperate and recover. Bad stress doesn’t, and it can leave you feeling exhausted to the point where you feel like giving up.
Some examples of bad stress include:
- Experiencing relationship strain
- Ending a relationship (either platonic or romantic)
- Death of a friend, loved one, or spouse
- Abuse or neglect
- Working a high-pressure job with never-ending demand
- Unaddressed mental or physical health conditions
- Financial difficulty
- Illness or hospitalization
- An unhealthy pursuit of money
When you’re stuck in a state of bad stress, your endocrine, digestive, excretory, immune, circulatory, and reproductive systems cannot perform their normal activities. The chronic stress you undergo changes your entire way of physical, psychological, and physiological functioning.
Without resolving bad stress, you may in time develop several negative health issues, including:
- Memory loss
- Weight gain
- Persistent irritability
- Trouble concentrating
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
That’s why it’s so important to learn how to anticipate, recognize, and cope with bad stress in your life.