The Art of Taming Positive Stress

November 13, 2018

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Stress is the plague of the 21st century. The work environment is often one of the main causes of stress among professionals. It creates friction, disagreements and headaches all around. Research even suggest that one in 20 cases of depression or anxiety annually can be attributed to high stress at work.

What if we told you there was a better way? What if you could put a positive spin on your stress and actually have it work for you and your company?

This is where eustress takes center stage.

Don’t believe us?

By the end of this blog post, you will.

Eustress – The Good Stress

Let’s start from the beginning. Etymology.

Eu-, a Greek prefix for “healthy,” is used in the same sense as in the word “euphoria.”

The term was coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye and it was meant to name a somewhat newly found concept – a stress that it is not always bad.

Eustress was originally explored in a stress model by Richard Lazarus, a prominent psychologist in the 1960s. He defined it as “the positive cognitive response to stress that is healthy, or gives one a feeling of fulfillment or other positive feelings”.

So, by definition, this kind of stress can actually be beneficial. Not only that, it is of the utmost importance for our overall wellbeing – it can keep us vital and excited about life.

So, where can we find this so called good stress?

Role models who push us to exceed our limits, physical training that removes our spare tires, and risks that expand our sphere of comfortable action are all examples of eustress — stress that is healthy and the stimulus for growth.

The excitement of a roller-coaster ride, a scary movie, first date, having a baby or a fun challenge are all examples of eustress in real life. As you can imagine, without eustress – we could become extremely bored or even, in more serious cases, depressed.

And without it, our motivation would start to fade until gone and together with it, meaning of life would simply slip through our fingers.

Stressing the Body

What happens to our body when we experience stress?

The first thing a body does when stressed is a release of certain stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. This is exactly the cause of that feeling you get just before you get on a roller-coaster: your palms are sweaty, the heart is racing like wild, and you have butterflies in your stomach… Not to worry – this is a typical and completely natural response to these stress hormones.

This is what happens when you experience any excitement over some sort of happy events. And it is pretty constructive, just so you know! This burst of stress hormones can increase brain function, improve concentration and boost feelings of alertness.

Sources of Eustress

Stress is very subjective since the same experience can result in a healthy challenge for one person or highly stressful for another.

This could be a task or project, say at work, that is demanding – perhaps there are deadlines and targets – and requires that certain obstacles and challenges are overcome. Yet, despite the obstacles and the fact that there is a certain level of uncertainty in the outcome, you feel that you have the resources and the ability to succeed.

There is an interim period before the result is achieved that creates a certain amount of stress, but this stress is helping you sharpen the focus and increase the stamina because you are already seeing the possibility of succeeding and know that you have at least a certain amount of control over it.

The real point of intersection with eustress is that this state of flow happens when the person faces a task that is not too easy or repetitive and neither is it too much above the person’s skills and other resources.

How Eustress Makes the Workplace More Efficient?

As this is the question you all might be asking, we’ll try to keep it simple and short.

There are three crucial benefits of having more eustress in your work environment:

Your team will now start to welcome the challenging situations instead of avoiding them. Projects and tasks that require more work won’t be disregarded as impossible anymore. The feeling of distress will disappear as they achieve career goals at doing what they do best.

How to Substitute Stress With Eustress?

Substituting stress with eustress begins with the transformation of a threat into a challenge.

Sound complicated, right? But actually, it’s not.

If a task is perceived as ambitious yet achievable, it can make all the difference for the employee assigned to it. There is a certain intrinsic motivation in doing it and therefore the stress that the person goes through is experienced as eustress.

If, on the other hand, the person perceives the task at hand as beyond their abilities, or has a belief or fear that he is not able to succeed, then chances are that the situation will create stress instead. The bad one.

good versus bad stress

Yet another internal asset that provides a person with the ability to turn a potentially stressful situation into a positive one is self-esteem and self-image. Together with a positive mindset and intrinsic motivation, having good self-esteem is an important key in experiencing eustress more often.

Basically, it’s: love yourself and the stress will become sweet and beneficial.

And what might be the main source of stress at work?

Challenge stressors or eustressors, more often than not, include factors in the workplace such as time constraints. A reasonable time constraint is needed in order to generate and execute ideas. But, when tic-tacking makes you feel like Captain Hook when he hears it, it’s time to change your perspective.

Also, other challenge stressors are a sizable workload so that people are sufficiently challenged and a clear job description with varied responsibilities tied to job performance.

What can one do?

First, admit to yourself: outside help is sometimes very much needed.  It may be in a form of a workshop for the employees, team building, some classes, and lectures or even a software that can make being efficient easier. All of this can have a positive impact on how stress is perceived and dealt with.

Starting today, what can you do when it comes to dealing with stress? How can you turn negative into a positive, without a magic wand?

Try this:

  1. Take responsibility for your both emotional and physical well-being. You can seek some support but, remember, no one else can do it for you.
  2. Even if you’re yoga-new age-aura-meditation free, try practicing relaxation. Take 15 minutes each day to think of nothing.
  3. Make sure you sleep well at night so your body can settle down from/for all the excitement.
  4. Manage your unrealistic expectations: no vacation or wedding is perfect so don’t put a pressure on it.
  5. Keep your routine on track. Even if you are the head of that huge pitch, or you are moving, falling in love, buying a car – skipping meals, sleep or anything else your body is so accustomed to, won’t do you any good.
  6. Handle with wit and grace all those negative thoughts. Things to say like “I know it will be a total fiasco” are strictly forbidden. Unless you have some strong evidence to support this claim.
  7. Learn to be in the now – never neglect your day to day life when anticipating some big and positive change.

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