When attention or action is warranted, stress is the body’s neurological and immunological response to the environment. “Good” stress (eustress) and “bad” stress (distress) are experienced daily and are unavoidable in our ever-changing environment.
There are two variations of stress; The first is called Eustress, more commonly known as “good stress,” and the second type is distress or “bad stress.”
Eustress, or “good stress”, positively affects our physical and mental well-being. Some examples of good stress include traveling somewhere new, paying off debt, talking to someone you are interested in romantically, and accomplishing a goal at school or work.
An individual experiencing eustress tends to feel more in control of the situation, and positive outcomes, such as life satisfaction, follow. Eustress impacts the body’s emotional, psychological, and physical response differently than distress.
Everyone experiences emotions differently, and there are no “good” or “bad” feelings; however, some common emotions associated with Eustress include:
Our feelings drive our behavior, so we are more likely to conquer any challenges when we feel capable and sure of ourselves.
Overcoming an attainable challenge or accomplishing a notable achievement provides a sense of motivation and determination. In addition, Eustress plays a considerable role in developing independence as we age.
Over time this sensation improves our attention span and other executive functioning skills such as:
Good stress has a good impact on physical health. Interestingly, Eustress is a driving force behind engagement in physical activity, such as demanding workouts.
For example, tension from lifting weights causes muscle contraction, which improves muscle strength; when the heart rate increases from movement, the cardiac muscles in the heart pump more robustly and more quickly, decreasing blood pressure and resting heart rate.
During stretching, the tight and shortened muscles elongate, which improves the flexibility and range of motion needed for:
Distress, or “bad stress,” serves to aid in a quick response to a dangerous environment. Without focus, there would be no survival; however, too much stress harms an individual’s mental and physical health.
Feelings that result from pressure, demands, and threats can include:
A negative outlook on life colors our perception of the world and plays a huge role in decision-making and behavior. Of course, there are no “negative” emotions. Still, it’s essential to be mindful of the antecedent to the feeling experienced and how it impacts the body and the response to the environment.
It’s important to note that everyone handles stress differently, and various factors determine this.
Those factors include:
For example, chronic stress worsens mental illness symptoms such as depression and anxiety, and some individuals turn to drugs and alcohol to help them cope. Likewise, sleeping and eating patterns are excessive or minimal, depending on how the individual handles stress.
When presented with extreme stress, the typical neurological response is “fight, flight, or freeze” to prepare and protect. Since the autonomic nervous system (ANS) is involved, there is little control. For example, pupils dilating and heart rate beating faster is involuntary.
The stress hormone cortisol is released, suppressing the immune system, and making sickness more likely. Inflammation within the body speeds up the aging process.
One of the lesser-known senses of our body, called interoception, is the sensation of the inside of our body, such as hunger, thirst, heart rate, breath rate, etc., which plays a massive role in how we interpret and express our “positive” and “negative” emotions.
Mindfulness is a critical practice to help one become aware of the feelings and where they are felt within the body. Some examples of where stress can be stored within the body include the jaw, neck, and back. This is why massages feel so great because the tension is being released.
Doing a full body scan, focusing on which muscles to relax, and taking deep breaths to get oxygen to the brain will help manage stress.
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