Determination of Good
and Bad Stress Level
How much stress is good for us?
The demands of living in fact are all stressors. Stressors include everyday
activities as well as unusual events or crises in our lives. Rushing to
catch a train, entertaining guests, or shopping for Christmas are ordinary
events that require us to readjust our lives for a short while and, thus,
are stressors. Within this continually demanding life environment we must
rely upon our coping and adaptive skills in order to maintain equilibrium
between the status quo and change or growth.
What is important about stress is how we react to it. How you
perceive the nature of the demand is, in turn, a product of your genetic
inheritance, your psychological and physical development, as well as your
prior experiences. For any given set of stressors, each person will have a
different interpretation and a different response.
When the response is appropriate, or adaptive, you experience eustress
(good stress) and a sense of mastery, psychological well-being, and
increased self-esteem. This positive feeling will, in turn, influence your
attitude toward the next stressor and stimulate personal growth. Olympic
records are not set on the quiet training tracks, but only with the stress
of competition--in front of huge crowds. The most efficient work done by a
student is often during the stress of facing a deadline for a term paper or
exam. The most electric performances don't come out of actors during
rehearsals; they occur when the curtain rises before a live audience.
Serious poker players will play only if significant amounts of money
are bet on each hand. With only pennies or toothpicks at stake, the stress
of losing is gone, but so too is the intense concentration, the enjoyment of
bluffing, and the excitement of winning. Many people with sedate working
lives actively seek stress in the form of parachuting, cliff climbing,
downhill skiing, horror movies or simply riding a roller coaster. Such
stresses bring more joy into their lives.
On the other hand, when your response is nonadaptive, it is
experienced as distress (bad stress). If unrelieved, distress can
become a chronic state. The emotional consequences of chronic distress are
broad, including anxiety, tension, anger, helplessness, hopelessness, and
depression. Nonadaptive physical changes caused by chronic distress include
heightened blood pressure, increased muscle tension, and a raised heart rate
and oxygen supply, all of which have no appropriate outlet.
The appropriate balance between eustress (good stress) and distress
(bad stress) is important. Increasing
stress serves to increase efficiency up to a critical level, after which it
turns into distress when your efficiency falls. With too much stress,
efficiency can fall so much that you can actually become counterproductive. When
you are in that state, even things you normally do well will be beyond your
The amounts and kinds of stress needed to reach maximum efficiency
are different in each individual. If
you are in the area of too little stress, you should say "yes" to
extra duties at home or at work or in your recreation. You could say
"yes" to a more expensive house, if you need one, assuming that
this is a good investment. Such extra responsibilities will add needed
stress, and can improve your overall efficiency (and happiness)
dramatically. If, however, you
are in the area of too much stress, part of the solution will be learning
how to say "no."
To know the joy of stress, know yourself. Seek skills that suit your
aptitudes during your learning years; and seek activities that use your
skills for the rest of your life. Assess your stresses, and then make the
right choices to become resistant to them instead of vulnerable. Strive to
maximize success by investing your energy and time in all four quadrants of
your life--financial sufficiency, personal happiness, sound health,
and respect on the job or in business.
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