To win in battles or business you have to know your opponent. To make friends with somebody it’s the same process: getting to know each other. Stress is there no matter if you see it as your enemy or your friend.
Let’s see what stress is all about and if there’s a way to make it work for your benefit instead of silently killing you!
What is Stress?
Stress is “the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it,” that is, the rate at which we live at anyone moment.(Selye, 1976)
Selye also said that stress is a natural and inevitable consequence of living and he concluded that the only moment you’re completely stress-free is when you’re dead.
To understand this thought at its face value, it is worth mentioning that there are 2 types of stresses: distress and eustress.
Distress and Eustress
Distress occurs when the demands placed on the body (in the larger sense that includes both the physiological and the psychological aspects) exceed its capacity to expend energy in maintaining homeostasis. The demand stimulus may be perceived as pleasant or unpleasant.(Le Fevre, Matheny & Kolt, 2003)
Eustress is the good side of stress. Its nickname is “excitement”.
So, to feel distressed it doesn’t really matter if you perceive the activity as pleasant or unpleasant. And to feel eustress you need to have the right amount of stress for you.
The Problem with Working
Running away from everything is not at all a good idea because you’ll get distressed even with not enough activities, not just with too many.
You have to work, that’s true. But it doesn’t have to be a negative thing.
I think we have to begin by clearly realizing that work is a biological necessity. Just as our muscles become flabby and degenerate if not used, so our brain slips into chaos and confusion unless we constantly use it for some work that seems worthwhile to us. The average person thinks he works for economic security or social status, but when, at the end of a most successful business career, he has finally achieved this, there remains nothing to fight for-no hope for progress, only the boredom of assured monotony.(Selye, 1976)
Remember those highly successful people who were saying that “they didn’t work a day in their lives”? They were perceiving their tasks as eustress.
You may know people who love what they’re doing, but being very unhappy with their colleagues, boss, principles of the company, and so on.
Choose to perform the occupation you like in the right environment for you.
Self-knowledge and self-honesty are golden keys when choosing how and where to earn your living.
Stressors – Are All Bad?
As we saw above, stressors make demands upon your psyche and your body all life. But there are 3 types of stressors in life: negative, positive, and neutral.
In some situations, you can change something about the stressor. In other situations, all you can change is your perception and response to the stressor.
No doubt, negative stressors such as the death of someone dear, loss of your job, getting sick, and so on will lead to distress.
The power you have in these situations is the power over yourself. Learn to be resilient and to have healthy coping mechanisms.
Positive stressors should always lead to eustress. In real life, even these situations are perceived as distressing sometimes.
For instance, going out on a date with your crush it’s eustressing, but it can be perceived as distress.
The third type are neutral stressors, such as meeting a deadline, receiving a new task at work, taking care of your children, and so on.
In neutral stressors there’s no one in control but you. You are the active agent who chooses if the activity is distress or as eustress.
Learn to differentiate clearly what kind of stressor is it and learn to manage your response emotions.
I propose an experiment for you: for a week, anytime you feel stressed ask yourself “Is there any way this could be an exciting activity?”
From Distress to Eustress
One of the ways to have more eustress than distress in your life is to learn to change your emotional responses. Learn to respond with positive emotions (e.g. acceptance, hope, gratitude, growth opportunity) instead of negative emotions (such as anger, hopelessness, and so on).
Another way is to know yourself and what you want. Choose the environment and the activities that suit you. Not just in your professional life.
Bibliography Fevre, M. L., Matheny, J., & Kolt, G. S. (2003). Eustress, distress, and interpretation in occupational stress. Journal of managerial psychology, 18(7), 726-744. Selye, H. (1976). Stress without distress. In Psychopathology of human adaptation (pp. 137-146). Springer, Boston, MA.