Part 1/4: What is Stress?

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Stress is something that we hear about all the time. When we tell people not to "stress themselves out", why do we do that? We know that stress isn't a good thing, but what exactly is it? Is all stress bad? How does it affect our bodies? How can we reduce stress? So let's get right to it.

Stress can be defined as the body's response to a demand or a threat. This threat can be inside our bodies or outside of them. It can be a real threat or an imaginary threat. This is a key point to realize. Our bodies respond to mental and emotional stress the same way that it responds to physical stress. That is a huge deal. This means that our mental health really can impact our physical health.

The 2 Types of Stress

Good stress, also known as eustress, is experienced whenever you are under pressure. Being under pressure can give you energy and improve your performance. Eustress generally is short-term and can be a source of motivation. A good example of eustress is when you're given an assignment with a deadline that isn't too simple or too difficult. If the task has a reasonable deadline, we have time to plan out how we want to tackle it. We are mostly in control of the situation. This type of stress would challenge us to work harder than normal without being too overwhelming. So in short, eustress is simply moderate stress that can actually benefit the one experiencing it. It pushes us to work harder, but not too hard. If you are having trouble understanding eustress, it will make more sense when we cover bad stress.
Bad stress, or distress, can be short-term or long term. It can deplete energy, decreases performance, and can lead to physical illness and mental fatigue. We experience distress whenever stressors (factors that stimulate stress) become more than we can bear. Most of the time this happens in a situation that we don't have control over, or a situation that we are in control over has become overwhelming. For example, let's say your car has been acting up for a few weeks. Finally, on the day of your final exam, the car refuses to start. At this point you're probably frantically trying to figure out how to get to class and may end up stressed out. This is where distress can begin to cause problems and where our mental disposition plays a huge role in whether we succumb to distress.
To sum this all up, eustress is good stress. We want this in our lives to give us the drive we need to accomplish tasks. If we weren't under any stress, we would lack motivation and a sense of urgency to do anything. Without anything pushing us to do things it would require that we have a good amount of internal motivation to get things done. However, if we do have something pushing us too hard, then we begin experiencing distress. Distress can cause mental and physical ailments if the stress is prolonged for a period of time. But why exactly does distress cause these problems? It's because of the body's response to stress. In the following posts, we will discuss the way our body responds to internal and external stressors as well as the role our mind plays.


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