The last time you gave an important presentation, you were probably nervous. You likely prepared quite a bit, practicing your speech every day.
But then once presenting, the nerves disappeared. You were charismatic, you made no mistakes, and you answered questions with ease.
What changed? Did your stage persona take over? Some alternate version of yourself that only appears in front of a crowd?
Kind of, but not exactly. What you experienced is called eustress.
Eustress is kind of the goldilocks version of stress. It’s not harmful like acute or chronic stress. But it boosts your performance when you’re out of your comfort zone — whether you’re giving a speech on stage, watching a scary movie, or changing jobs.
But that’s just one of the many benefits of eustress. There’s a lot more to it, so let’s dive in.
How eustress works
Eustress, like all other types of stress, is derived from humanity’s natural fight-or-flight response. When you see or experience something stressful, your brain pumps hormones through your body to help you respond urgently. These hormones include epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol. They increase your heart rate, constrict your blood vessels, and rapidly deploy energy to avoid danger.
Eustress is a type of stress that is actually good for your mental health and well-being. It deploys the necessary hormones in low doses for a short period of time — to provide certain health benefits and help you respond to a potential threat.
Good stress like this can benefit you in these three areas:
- Emotions. It creates positive feelings of contentment, inspiration, motivation, and flow states.
Think of what you could do with a boost in any or all of these categories.
If you need help navigating a stressful situation, try working with BetterUp. Our coaches can help you use eustress to your advantage.
10 benefits of eustress
Here are some examples of how eustress can help us:
- Proactivity. It will help you plan, making sure you’re ready for whatever’s coming your way.
- Productivity. You’ll avoid procrastination, so you don’t fall behind on your targets.
- Creativity. Necessity is the mother of invention. You’ll find creative solutions to problems because you have to.
- Thrills. It makes controlled risk activities exciting. You might be anxious at first, but those feelings will dissipate once you participate.
- Control. When you’re acting through eustress, you feel less vulnerable. That’s because you have the motivation to work through your tasks.
- Energy. It helps you stay alert and can increase the speed of your reflexes.
- Resilience. You’ll better adapt to changing situations.
- Physical well-being. The adrenaline from eustress can help you power through a tough workout.
- Coping. This kind of positive stress is essential to cope with stressful situations, which will help your emotional stability.
- Focus. It sharpens your senses so you can focus on the task at hand.
How to know you’re experiencing eustress
Which characteristics are typical of eustress? Here are the common eustress symptoms:
- You feel motivated and focused. Even though your heart rate is up, you couldn’t be happier. You feel good putting your energy into this project.
- Your stress disappears when the stressor is gone. The short-term nature of eustress means it disappears as soon as you complete the work. You might feel extra tired after you’re done with the adrenaline.
- You’re confident you can handle it. Stress is toxic when you feel like you can’t cope. Eustress occurs when you’re ready to take it all on. This is also beneficial for your self-esteem.
- You’re excited about the work. If it gets you out of bed in the morning, it’s probably eustress.
- You’re performing at a higher level. Eustress brings out the best in you. That means you’re producing great work and staying on top of everything.
When is stress unhealthy?
Eustress is exhilarating, and it can kick you when you need it most. But it can teeter into negative stress if you’re not careful. Too much stress has consequences.
Cortisol and adrenaline raise your blood pressure, heart rate, and sugar levels to have extra energy at the moment. When experienced in high doses, the negative effects of stress can leave a lasting impact on your mental health, potentially leading to acute stress disorder and other health conditions.
Stress hormones can also be harmful at low doses over an extended period of time. Such is the case with chronic stress. This stress can lead to permanent high blood pressure, heart conditions, a lowered immune system, diabetes, and burnout.
The Eustress Scale
The eustress scale is a management tool to help measure employees’ stress responses.
When people are unchallenged, they’re unmotivated and can’t perform at their best. But, on the other end of the scale, employees also underperform when they’re overwhelmed.
The goal is to strike a balance. Employers should seek the optimal stress level (eustress) to promote motivation among staff.
While this was primarily designed for business contexts, you can apply it to your everyday life. You should pay attention to your current workload. And when you feel high levels of stress, it’s time to make a change.
Turn distress into eustress
Here’s how to change an overwhelming situation into eustress:
- Turn your threat into a challenge. This requires a shift in mindset. When you do this, you can find new motivation in your work.
- Remember that stress is a temporary feeling. Stress is related to the activity you’re doing. Once you’re done, the stress will disappear with it.
- Focus on what you can control. Not all stressors are yours to control. Focus on what you can do to improve your situation. That means keeping your head down and completing the task at hand, in many cases.
It’s also helpful to remember the dos and don’ts of eustress.
- Focus on the task, not your feelings
- Lean on your support system of people who care about you
- Keep a positive attitude
- Assume that stress will last forever
- Worry about things you can’t control
- Listen to naysayers
Examples of eustress in everyday life
Eustress can appear anywhere in your life. Whether it’s at work or home, you’ll encounter situations that rev up your stress hormones and generate excitement.
Here are some examples of eustress you might encounter in stressful events.
Eustress at work
Remember to stay calm and take one step at a time. If you bite more than you can chew, you can easily experience the negative consequences of distress.
Eustress from your personal goals
You might set your own goals for your personal life. Maybe you’re going out for a first date, have family visiting for the holidays, or are looking for friends in a new city. These challenges can cause eustress.
The trick is to power through in the beginning. As you set small milestones and start to reach them, you’ll find yourself motivated.
Eustress and traveling
Traveling is stressful — especially if you’re going somewhere you’ve never been. It takes work to plan your trip, book your tickets and hotels, pick destinations, and potentially learn a new language.
But what makes traveling stressful is also why it’s thrilling. That’s why we can consider it eustress.
Eustress and fitness
Are you trying to run a faster mile? Lift more weights? Do more pull-ups? Eustress can motivate you to achieve your fitness goals.
You might experience this when you lose yourself in your workout. You no longer feel the exhaustion, so you plow through to reach your goals.
How to add eustress to your life
Maybe you can relate to the above examples. But if not, it’s time to experience eustress more in your life:
- Never stop learning. Try learning something new every day — big or small. Doing so will help keep your mind fresh and challenge you to improve yourself.
- Challenge yourself at work. This could mean taking on new responsibilities or developing a new skill. Try to stretch yourself.
- Exercise. Physical activity is a great way to boost your energy. It’s also a good way to generate eustress through setting and achieving goals.
- Improve your goal-setting. Make sure you set realistic goals. When in doubt, use the SMART method.
The bottom line
If you’re worried about stress in your life, ask yourself whether it’s good or bad stress. One will help you feel empowered, and the other will make you drained. It’s important to know the difference and adjust your life accordingly.
Remember that some stress is good for you in small doses. Whether you’re taking the stage or starting a new job, the benefits of eustress will push you to succeed.