Aging Successfully: Eustress versus distress

  • Wednesday, January 27, 2021 1:30am
  • Opinion
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The first time I discovered the word eustress (pronounced YOU-stress) was last year while doing research for my November 2020 column, “Gratitude, thankfulness and mental health.” The clinical term eustress is a combination of the Greek prefix “eu” and the word stress.

If you are unaware of the fact, the Greek prefix eu means well, good, pleasant and true. A good example would be the word euphoria.

The term eustress was coined by Dr. Hans Selye, a Hungarian-Canadian endocrinologist. Dr. Selye did much research on the body’s response to stress and realized there are both positive and negative stressors in our lives. He also discovered that negative stress itself can kill a person just like a disease can.

Other experts have carried on the research he began, and continue to learn more about how stress impacts our daily lives for good or for bad.

Stress, in and of itself, can be defined as the body and mind’s response to changes in our lives which can create taxing demands on us. Often the issue is not the stressors in our lives themselves, but rather our perception of those stressors.

Eustress is the positive response we feel about specific stressors in our lives. This response is the result of many factors such as desirability, timing, and a feeling of being in control. As we confront eustress stressors they can give us hope, enthusiasm and a sense of satisfaction. All of these contribute to improving our health, both physically and mentally.

There are limitless examples of eustress events in our lives such as graduating from college, beginning a new job, getting married, purchasing a home, learning a new skill and having a baby.

The term distress, as used in clinical settings, dates back to the late 1300s and is defined as circumstances which cause anxiety or hardship. Distress is negative stress which feels unpleasant, can cause anxiety, and is perceived as beyond our coping abilities. Distress can be short or long term, and it always takes a toll on our physical health and on our mental health.

Like eustress, the examples of distress are limitless. Three of those examples are terminal illness, the loss of a friendship, and the death of a loved-one.

I encourage you to mentally step back and examine the stressors in your personal life then change them from distress to eustress. It is not as difficult as it sounds, and here are two examples. While divorce is considered a distress, it could become a eustress, especially if one’s spouse was abusive. Losing one’s job has always been considered a horrible, negative stressor, a distress.

Yet in acquiring a much better job the distress, the fear, becomes the eustress, the motivator.

The physical and mental health benefits of creating more eustress in my own life have been priceless. I am calmer, have more energy, and am healthier, thus I am happier. I wish the same for you my readers.

Email us your thoughts at information@crystallinn.com. I reply to every email.

Crystal Linn is a multi-published author and an award-winning poet.

When not writing, or teaching workshops, Crystal enjoys reading a good mystery, hiking, and sailing with friends and family. See crystallinn.com.

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