Eustress vs. Distress: The Fine Line Between Motivation and Overwhelm


In this Particular Article, You will learn about the flip sides of stress in our daily life, Eustress and Destress and learn what you need and how to balance your life with both.

Stress is inevitable! It’s a part of our life. Irrespective of the situation we are in right now, a school student, a corporate employee, a researcher, an artist, a worker, whoever you are whatever situation you might be in, you experience stress in your day-to-day life events. While we all look at stress from a negative point of view, many researchers suggest certain degrees of stress to be an extremely normal driving force for us to achieve and attain our goals. Sounds weird isn’t it? Well to understand it all we first need to be familiar with the meaning of the widely used word “stress”.

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What is Stress?

Stress is a state of mind, caused by an external or internal circumstance called a stressor. In other words, stress is a response to an event caused internally or externally which is related to discomfort, pain or sadness to an individual. It can also be defined as the behaviour we do when we are under pressure. It’s the first and essentially a normal human reaction our body is designed to experience and adapt to stressful situations.

Deconstructing Stress

Our body’s autonomic nervous system has a huge role to play in controlling our heart rate, vision, breathing, blood pressure and even our digestive system. Our autonomic nervous system can be divided into two major parts, the Sympathetic Nervous System and the Parasympathetic Nervous System. When we encounter a stressor in our lives, our sympathetic nervous system warns the body of the possible threat and activates the fight-or-flight response mode, which in turn helps the body to cope with such stressors.

Read More: 6 Ways to Prevent Stress From Taking Over Your Life

But if a person is exposed to constant stressful situations, our body keeps the fight or flight mode active for as long as the stressor is there. This is where the problem starts for us. Our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system has opposing roles in our body. The Sympathetic is known to, dialect pupils, accelerate heart rate, inhibit the digestive system, release glucose, increase blood pressure etc. Which means the body becomes overactive.

Parasympathetic constricts pupils, slows heart rate, stimulates the digestive system, stores energy, and keeps the blood pressure at a normal level etc. which means the body comes to a rest where it stores energy. Therefore, if our body stays in fight-or-flight mode for a longer period it will show some chronic signs of burnout. Such as,

  • Pain and aches in different parts of the body
  • Racing heart and palpitation
  • Physical and mental exhaustion
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleepless
  • Digestive problems
  • Weaken immune system
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Nausea
What is Distress?

Distress is a negative or unpleasant state of stress which is often regarded as negative stress or bad stress. It often makes us feel overwhelmed, affecting us physiologically and psychologically. An individual might feel distressed when he/she believes there is no way out of the current situation. Also, distress mostly prevents us from doing our best and doing well in a situation.

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Distress can look like:

  • Avoidance
  • Decrease in performance
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Lack of focus
  • Changes in appetite and sleep
  • Anxiety
What is Eustress?

Another type of stress which is often regarded as good stress or a type of stress that helps us do better, is called eustress. It is especially true for eustress to make ourselves better at what we do. Eustress increases performance and helps in adaptation to a stressful situation. It is the positive stress that we were talking about earlier.

Eustress can look like:

  • Improved performance
  • Better organizational skills
  • Concentration and focus on the necessary things
  • Working for growth and development

Read More: Psychology Behind Growth Mindset

Key Differences in Eustress and Distress

Is Short-term.Can be both short-term and long-term.
The challenges might feel manageable.Challenges might feel overwhelming and
Might induce worry to fulfill goals.Might induce anxiety and hopelessness.
Occurs in situations where the person might
feel confident.
Occurs in situations of helplessness and the
person might lack confidence in him/herself.
Less likely to affect individuals and have
physical signs and symptoms of it.
Less likely to affect individuals and have
physical signs and symptoms it.
Increases performance.Less likely to affect individuals and have
physical signs and symptoms.
The energy that eustress produces is
Restless energy is associated with distress.
key differences between eustress and distress
Ways to Promote Eustress and Decrease Distress

Although, distress and eustress are both a part of our lives. One situation might induce distress while another eustress– it’s all about keeping a balance in between. Here are some effective ways to help you fight distress and promote eustress.

  • You can not control everything that happens in your life, instead, try to look for the things that you can control.
  • Look into a situation from different perspectives.
  • Try to look for the next step to improve the situation.
  • Try to identify the root cause.
  • Be mindful of your actions and focus on your goals.
  • Take small steps to attain a larger goal.
  • Provide yourself with unconditional positive regard.
  • Take breaks in between.
  • Increase physical activity such as running, walking or playing sports etc.

Also, Seek help if needed.

Eustress and distress are both types of stress that we may experience on several occasions due to different stressors. While this is true, it’s believed by many that there is no such thing as eustress or distress and it is merely hypothetical.

“The adaptation reaction of an organism under stress is not intrinsically good or bad, and its effect on health or performance depends on a plethora of other interactions of the body with the environment as well as on the history of such interactions.”– says Julie Bienertova-Vasku, Peter Lenart and Martin Scheringer in their 2020 study on “Eustress and Distress: Neither Good Nor Bad, but Rather the Same?”. Even if they are hypothetical concepts, they can be further simplified as the effects of long-term exposure to stress either way are not recommended. If one goes through such a situation it’s possible to get out of it and ask for help.

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