Eustress is a term coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye. The word eustress consists of two parts. The prefix eu- derives from the Greek word meaning either "well" or "good." When attached to the word stress, it literally means "good stress".
Eustress was originally explored in a stress model by Richard Lazarus, it is the positive cognitive response to stress that is healthy, or gives one a feeling of fulfillment or other positive feelings. Selye created the term as a subgroup of stress to differentiate the wide variety of stressors and manifestations of stress.
Eustress is not defined by the stressor type, but rather how one perceives that stressor (e.g. a negative threat versus a positive challenge). Eustress refers to a positive response one has to a stressor, which can depend on one's current feelings of control, desirability, location, and timing of the stressor. Potential indicators of eustress may include responding to a stressor with a sense of meaning, hope, or vigor. Eustress has also been positively correlated with life satisfaction and well-being.
Occupational eustress may be measured on subjective levels such as of quality of life or work life, job pressure, psychological coping resources, complaints, overall stress level, and mental health. Other subjective methodological practices have included interviews with focus groups asking about stressors and stress level. In one study participants were asked to remember a past stressful event and then answer questionnaires on coping skills, job well-being, and appraisal of the situation (viewing the stressful event as a challenge or a threat). Common subjective methodologies were incorporated in a holistic stress model created in 2007 to acknowledge the importance of eustress, particularly in the workplace. This model uses hope, positive affect, meaningfulness, and manageability as a measure of eustress, and negative psychological states, negative affect, anxiety, and anger as a measure of distress. Objective measures have also been used and include blood pressure rate, muscle tension, and absenteeism rates. Further physiological research has looked for neuroendocrine changes as a result of eustress and distress. Research has shown that catecholamines change rapidly to pleasurable stimuli. Studies have demonstrated that eustress and distress produce different responses in the neuroendocrine system, particularly dependent on the amount of personal control one feels over a stressor.
Compared with distress
Distress is the most commonly referred to type of stress, having negative implications, whereas eustress is usually related to desirable events in a person's life. Selye first differentiated the two in an article he wrote in 1975. In this article Selye argued that persistent stress that is not resolved through coping or adaptation should be known as distress, and may lead to anxiety, withdrawal, and depressive behavior. In contrast, if stress enhances one's functioning it may be considered eustress. Both can be equally taxing on the body, and are cumulative in nature, depending on a person's way of adapting to the stressor that caused it. The body itself cannot physically discern between distress or eustress. Differentiation between the two is dependent on one's perception of the stress, but it is believed that the same stressor may cause both eustress and distress. One context that this may occur in is societal trauma (e.g. the black death, World War II) which may cause great distress, but also eustress in the form of hardiness, coping, and fostering a sense of community The Yerkes-Dodson model demonstrates the optimum balance of stress with a bell curve (shown in the image in the top right). This model is supported by research demonstrating emotional-coping and behavioral-coping strategies are related to changes in perceived stress level on the Yerkes-Dodson Curve.
Much of the research on eustress has focused on its presence in the workplace. In the workplace, stress can often be interpreted as a challenge, which generally denotes positive eustress, or as a hindrance, which refers to distress that interferes with one's ability to accomplish a job or task. Relationships have been shown between how one appraises an occupational stress and how one chooses a coping style. Emotion-focused coping strategies have been related to threat appraisals and distress while task-focused coping have been related to challenge appraisal and eustress. Research has focused on increasing eustress in the workplace, in an effort to promote positive reactions to an inevitably stressful environment. Techniques such as Stress Management Interventions (SMI) have been employed to increase occupational eustress. SMI's often incorporate exercise, meditation, and relaxation techniques to decrease distress and increase positive perceptions of stress in the workplace. Rather than decrease stress in the workplace, SMI techniques attempt to increase eustress with positive reactions to stressful stimuli.
Eustress is common in the examples below. However, the examples depend on how an individual perceives the stress. The examples below are most often perceived as eustress
- Meeting or engaging in a challenge
- Desired physical exercise (e. g. weight training, running, biking)
- Playing sports
- Watching a suspenseful or scary movie
- Riding a roller coaster
- Competing in a tournament
- Distress, the opposite of eustress.
- Hans Selye, who founded the theory of stress.
- For more general information on stress visit the American Psychological Association's (APA) site here.
- D. L. Nelson, B. L. Simmons (2004). P. L. Perrewé, D. C. Ganster, ed. Eustress: An Elusive Construct an Engaging Pursuit (First Edition ed.). Oxford, UK: Elsevier Jai. ISBN 0-7623-1057-X.
- Lazarus, R. S. (1966). Psychological Stress and the Coping Process. New York, Toronto, London: McGraw-Hill Book Co.
- Selye, Hans (1974). Stress without distress. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company. p. 171.
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- Lazarus, R. S. (1991). "Psychological stress in the workplace". Journal of Social Behavior and Personality 6 (7).
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