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What Is Eustress? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is Eustress?
  • 1:11 Distress vs. Eustress
  • 3:12 Can Stress Be Helpful
  • 6:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lawrence Jones

Lawrence "LoJo" Jones teaches Psychology, Sociology, Ethics and Critical Thinking

A great many things in the world create stress, and we are constantly reminded of how bad stress is for us emotionally and physically. But eustress is quite literally a good form of stress that can actually increase our performance at a task and our general happiness and sense of well-being.

What is Eustress?

Some people would like us to believe that they work better under stress. Perhaps you have made this statement yourself as a means to justify spending the evening playing your favorite video game while a deadline looms overhead. However, there is some truth to this. We actually benefit from some stress, and it can help us to improve our lives and performance at a given task.

Let's get one thing straight right out of the gate, though - stress in any form can also be a bad thing. Stressors are by definition those life events that can create a negative reaction in our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Lost your job? Worried about paying bills? Had a car accident? All these and so much more can provoke a stress response in our minds and bodies that is detrimental to our well-being. Stress is, after all, a strain put upon an organism, forcing it to change and adapt according to conditions.

Eustress is not simply a different type of stressor, but it's also that positive reaction to stress that generates within us a desire to achieve and overcome a challenge. While some events can provoke a good type of excitement and psychological arousal - say winning the lottery for example - our perceptions of a stressor are what determine if we are feeling distress or eustress.

Distress vs. Eustress

What is the difference between the more commonly known stress (also known as distress) and eustress? Let's consider an example.

Imagine that you won the lottery tomorrow. You now have millions of dollars at your disposal. So, after you quit your job and buy a brand new car, one would imagine nothing but happiness for your future. Then your relatives start calling and telling you how much they need money. Some of these relatives you have never heard of before. Now the charities and political organizations start calling for donations. Now you have new things to worry about at tax time, and you're feeling torn about who you can help and what you should do now. These worries are keeping you up at night, you're having trouble eating, and you feel a constant knot in your stomach worrying about what to do. I certainly wouldn't call that a 'good' stress. Instead, you're just stressed out by the changes and strains being put on you.

Now let's consider another person who won the lottery. He becomes galvanized by the idea of managing millions of dollars and reshaping his life into something he's always dreamed of. Sure, people are coming out of the woodwork asking for money, but this person knows who and how he wants to help and sticks to his plans. He invests his money, hires tax consultants, starts a business he's always dreamed of and is constantly smiling as he goes to sleep each and every night imagining the challenges to overcome and the rewards from doing so. The changes and strains are bringing out the best in him.

This is an example of eustress. So we see that eustress isn't simply a better type of stress, but rather a better reaction and perception of what causes us stress and what we perceive we are capable of doing about it. Even the most positive thing in the world can cause some people bad stress. Also, there are those who suffer terrible stress from what appears to outsiders as the simplest of things to overcome. For those who experience eustress, it's all about perceiving challenges rather than obstacles, as cliché as that may sound to some.

Can Stress be Helpful?

Many studies have demonstrated that some stress, as long as it isn't overwhelming, can actually be a positive thing. Consider playing sports. Can you imagine the lackluster performance if none of the players were excited about the game?

Take a look at the Yerkes-Dodson Curve.

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This shows us how the more excited we get about performing a task, the better we do at it. Even as the pressure increases, this can galvanize us into our best performances. However, if the stress or anxiety about the task becomes too great, it's a downhill plunge to distress and lack of performance.

Using Eustress to Your Advantage

When you have an exam, do you get excited about the challenge? If not, then most likely you will have some difficulty getting through that exam successfully. The stress just becomes overwhelming as you fear the results of the exam and wind up overloading on distress.

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