Topic 3: Stress vs. Eustress: Recognizing Positive Stress


The term “stress” often carries negative connotations, evoking images of tension, anxiety, and overwhelm. However, not all stress is harmful. Enter the concept of eustress or positive stress, a term derived from the Greek prefix “eu-” meaning “good.” This distinction between stress and eustress underscores the importance of our perceptions and responses to challenging situations.

Understanding Eustress

Eustress is a positive response to stressors that motivates, focuses energy, feels exciting, and results in optimal performance. Unlike distress, which is chronic, detrimental, and often overwhelming, eustress is short-term, goal-oriented, and can significantly enhance our functioning.

Characteristics of Eustress:

  • Generates motivation.
  • Sharpens focus and concentration.
  • Enhances performance and productivity.
  • Is perceived as within our coping capacities.
  • Spurs personal growth and development.

Example: Preparing for a marathon can be physically challenging and requires discipline, but the motivation to achieve a personal best and the excitement of the event can produce eustress.

Stress vs. Eustress: Drawing the Line

  1. Perception of Control: One major distinction between stress and eustress is the perception of control. Eustress arises when we believe we can handle or even thrive amidst the challenge, while distress feels uncontrollable or overwhelming.

    Example: Two employees assigned a challenging project might react differently. One might see it as an exciting opportunity for growth (eustress), while the other might dread the workload and responsibility (distress).

  2. Duration: Eustress tends to be short-lived, associated with specific events or tasks. Distress, on the other hand, can be persistent and chronic, lingering long after the stressor is gone.

    Example: The adrenaline rush during a thrilling roller coaster ride is eustress. But continuously worrying about financial instability would be distress.

  3. Outcomes: Eustress often results in feelings of fulfillment, satisfaction, or accomplishment. Distress, conversely, may result in feelings of anxiety, depression, or physical health issues.

    Example: The sense of achievement after successfully hosting a large event might be a result of eustress. Continual sleep disturbances due to work worries indicate distress.

The Role of Eustress in Personal Growth

Eustress plays a crucial role in pushing us out of our comfort zones. By challenging ourselves, we build resilience, develop new skills, and often achieve more than we believed possible.

  • Learning and Development: Eustress drives us to learn, adapt, and overcome, facilitating both personal and professional growth.

    Example: The initial challenges of learning a new instrument can produce eustress, driving the learner to practice and improve.

  • Resilience Building: Facing and overcoming positive stressors can bolster our confidence and belief in our abilities to handle future challenges.

    Example: Successfully navigating the demands of a first job can equip an individual with the skills and confidence to handle more significant career challenges later.


The differentiation between stress and eustress underscores the profound impact of perception on our well-being. By recognizing and harnessing eustress, we can transform challenges into opportunities, fostering personal growth, resilience, and an enriched life experience. It’s essential, however, to remain vigilant and ensure that what starts as eustress doesn’t become chronic distress, as the line between them can sometimes be thin. Understanding this balance is a cornerstone of effective stress management.