Stress is often viewed as an exclusively negative sensation: Work deadlines pile up, family drama takes its toll, busy schedules wear us thin and we wind up drained.
Stress occurs when someone feels an imbalance between a challenge and the resources they have to deal with it, says Kathleen Gunthert, a professor of psychology at American University.
Researchers have identified two different types of stress —
‘Distress’ which refers to negative stress (a breakup) and ‘eustress’ which refers to positive stress (starting a new job).
Chronic stress — defined as “the physiological or psychological response to a prolonged internal or external stressful event,” according to the American Psychological Association — has been linked to unhealthy eating, skin problems, smaller brain size, and even an increased likelihood of chronic disease.
In small doses, however, experts say stress can actually have some positive effects. Moderate levels of daily, manageable stress — also known as ‘eustress’ — may help protect against oxidative damage, which is linked to aging and disease, a 2013 study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology found.
While heightened stress can feel overwhelming and decrease motivation, a little bit can go a long way when it comes to kickstarting your work. Medium levels of stress can enhance our motivation. For example, the stress of a deadline can help people focus and pay more attention because time is running out. Many people aren’t able to find the motivation to do something until we are stressed because it is due the next day and all of a sudden the motivation is there.
Talking to friends and family can build and strengthen relationships too. “A lot of our friendships or family relationships wouldn’t be the same if we hadn’t supported each other through some of the tougher times,” says Gunthert.