In Aspen Strong

How Stress Can Improve Your Well-Being

How Stress Can Improve Your Well-Being

Everyone experiences stress. It’s a ubiquitous part of modern life. We stress over our jobs, our families, our social lives, our education, our health, our finances – the list could go on and on. It seems that everyone is on a never-ending quest to eliminate stress from their lives. Would a completely stress-free life be a good thing? Surprisingly, the answer is no – some stress is good stress.

Good stress or eustress is temporary worry and tension that accompanies challenging situations or activities which remain within our abilities to handle. Think of a series of concentric circles, like a target. The first is your “comfort zone” – here there’s no stress because you are fully confident that you can succeed at anything that crops up. Now imagine another circle beyond the first, which represents your “capability zone” – you’re out of your comfort zone, so you’ll experience stress, but expectations of what you can manage are realistic. Beyond your capability zone is where you experience negative stress or distress – so far out of your comfort zone that your abilities no longer match what’s needed to face a particular challenge. The limits for each of these zones are different for everyone. Where public speaking or riding a roller coaster might be fun activities that create a buzz of excitement for one person, they may be terrors for someone else, who would be overwhelmed with distress if they attempted them.

The key is finding that sweet spot where you can step out of your comfort zone in order to feel the satisfaction of successfully learning a new skill or overcoming a challenge without slipping into negative stress.

Eustress has a number of benefits, particularly for well-being in general:

  • It’s motivating and energizing.
  • It feels exciting and creates a sense of satisfaction.
  • It drives improvements in abilities by pushing us to learn.
  • It helps to create confidence and self-esteem.
  • It builds resilience.

On the other hand, the effects of distress are harmful, especially when experienced chronically. Negative stress:

  • Decreases our ability to focus and get things done.
  • Make us more susceptible to both mental and physical illnesses.
  • Can cause physical symptoms like headaches, fatigue, muscle pains, and both sleep and digestive problems.
  • Can make us more likely to self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, or tobacco.

Stress is not inherently bad, but in order to take advantage of maximizing eustress in your life, there are three key behaviors to strive for.

  1. Perspective – whether a particular stressor falls in your capability zone or beyond can be influenced by your perspective of the situation. Many things that cause us stress we perceive as threats. But, instead, if we’re able to think of some of these “threats” as challenges to overcome and learn from, we can convert distress into eustress.
  2. Limitations – be aware of your limits and stand up for them. Knowing the bounds of your comfort and capability zones enables you to say no to tasks and activities that will cause you negative stress.
  3. Balance – maintaining balance among the stressors in your life is key. It’s nearly impossible to live without any stress in our lives. And even though eustress is “good stress,” you can indeed have too much of a good thing. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to relax and recharge free of stress – sometimes it’s more than okay to stay in your “comfort zone.”

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