Let’s talk about stress, baby

Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be. Salt-n-Pepa references over with for now, there’s a lot people misunderstand about stress – one major thing being, it can actually be good.

Oh yeah, you ‘eard. The girl riddled with anxiety just by going to the office is telling you this stress nonsense is actually nothing to worry about.

Well, yes and no. There are different types of stress – and since it’s National Stress Awareness day, I figured we’d delve into them a little bit.

Eustress? WTF is that?

Typically, the word ‘stress’ conjures up negative connotations. Something a bit like this:

And while that isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s not as nuanced as it should be. To massively simplify, you can break stress down into two types: positive and negative.

Our old friend Wikipedia gives us this nice, succinct definition for the positive type, ‘eustress’:

Eustress means beneficial stress—either psychological, physical (e.g. exercise), or biochemical/radiological (hormesis). The term was coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye, consisting of the Greek prefix eu- meaning “good”, and stress, literally meaning “good stress”.

WTF is good stress? Good stress? I’m not having you on, I promise. Take these examples:

  • Getting ready for a date
  • Receiving a promotion
  • Getting married

All of these are nice, positive things! They might mean additional responsibilities or anxieties, but typically, they should bring you happiness in some form or other.

There are also moments where stress pushes you to rise to a challenge. The triggers may not be as obviously positive as the previous examples, but your response to the stressor(s) can mean you achieve something you may not have thought possible, like:

  • Public speaking
  • Meeting a tricky deadline
  • Learning to drive

So now as a result of stress, you’ve reacted accordingly and are feeling pretty accomplished! Yay stress!

Of course, too much stress – even our new mate eustress – can be a bad thing.

Hello distress, my old friend

This is what we typically mean when we mention ‘stress’. Distress, the negative side of stress, can encompass any number of things, from huge life events to recurring issues:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Financial worries
  • Injuries/illnesses
  • Arguments with friends/family
  • Unmanageable job demands
  • Unemployment
  • Long commutes

…yeah, sadly it’s a lot easier to identify negative stressors. Of course, what makes a person feel stressed can also be unique to them – things like phobias and negative thoughts and feelings (whassup anxiety) can have a huge impact on our stress levels.

Contrary to eustress, which can make us feel excited and motivated, distress tends to make us feel sad and usually results in us struggling to stay on top of things.

Rest and recover

See, the key thing to know about stress is that for it to be beneficial to us, it should be short-lived. The idea being that we’re stimulated just enough to be operating at an optimal level – the exact halfway point between being mind-numbingly bored and entirely overwhelmed.

Image credit: PrecisionNutrition.com

Recovery is so important. A stressor could be a child walking into the road just as you drive round the corner. At this point, your body reacts and you perform an emergency stop, hopefully avoiding any harm to yourself and the child. It’s very likely that your heart will be racing, you might be sweating (I initially typed swearing there – also pretty likely), and breathing heavily. You need a few minutes to compose yourself.

This is not only normal – it’s essential. The same could be said for a hot bath and an early night after a gruelling day at work. You need your body to return to a neutral state so the stress doesn’t get the better of you.

When it comes to life-altering stressors – like loved ones passing away – we’ll very likely need a lot more help returning to our ‘homeostasis’ and counterbalancing the enormous amount of distress we’ve experienced. That could mean anything from taking time off work and spending more time with friends and family, to speaking to a counsellor. Whatever helps you feel more ‘you’.

What do I do if I feel stressed?

The NHS has some top advice for if you’re feeling stressed – but if ya don’t fancy reading that, these are the top three things I tend to gravitate towards:

Talk to people

Friends, family, the Samaritans, a therapist – whatever you need. You’d be surprised just how much connecting with another person can give you perspective and some action points.

Up your ‘me’ time

Do things that you enjoy and help you feel relaxed. Want to eat some nice food and watch Netflix? Do it. Fancy curling up with a book and ignoring the laundry for a night? Do it. Aim for the awesome level of chill this owl has.

Get outside

I’m not really one for exercise, but I try to make it outside on each of my lunch breaks at work. Whether it’s a 5 minute walk or 50 minute trek, a bit of fresh air can give you just enough distance to feel refreshed and calmer.

So there you have it. Hopefully you feel a smidgen more informed, but if you fancy reading up a little more, these are some top resources:

Mind – my most favourite website for mental health advice – they have an extensive section on dealing with stress.

PsychCentral – 10 practical ways to address your stress, with some other handy links!

Samaritans – need to talk? Drop these lovely people an email or give them a ring for free on 116 123.

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