Feeling stressed out? Maybe you’ve missed your bus to work and you’re having a bad day in the office? Or the kids are getting you down at home and you didn’t sleep well the night before? Or perhaps there’s a more serious reason that is causing your heart rate to increase and your breath to shorten?
Whatever the cause, we’ve all had times when we’re tearing our hair out, when nothing goes right and everything seems to be wrong. Traditionally we presume that stress in any form is bad for us, but in fact, recent research shows that a certain amount of ‘good’ stress – known as ‘Eustress’ is actually a positive thing.
Eustress is a term that was first coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye. It means beneficial stress—either psychological, physical or biochemical and refers to the type of stress that we need in order to perform at our best.
Family therapist and CEO of Mindlab, David Kavanagh says Eustress can motivate us to perform better and can, in fact, encourage creativity and problem solving because of the way it affects the brain. “Good stress activates the prefrontal cortex and releases chemicals like dopamine or serotonin once our goal has been achieved,” he explains. “So, for example having a deadline in work can help us to perform more efficiently than an open ended ‘do it when you can’ approach.”
Bad stress, on the other hand, he says, triggers the brain to release cortisol. Cortisol increases the heart rate and causes a ‘fight or flight’ response in our bodies, essentially preparing us for danger.
“Let's say your boss gives you a deadline for a presentation at work, and this acts to motivate you and helps you to focus,” says David. “But then she tells you that you will be presenting, not just to your immediate team, but to the entire company. This situation can result in bad stress.”
He says we can measure the stress we’re under and determine what type of stress it is by paying attention to our breathing and our thoughts. “Ask yourself whether your breathing is controlled or fast?” he says. “And are your thoughts focused or racing?
“The speed of both indicates just how stressed you are and whether it is affecting you in a negative way or not. If you feel panic, this is the result of bad stress.
There is no need to presume that stress is a bad thing,” he adds. “A little of the right type of stress is usually good for us once we recognise its purpose in our lives.” And while we all encounter bad stress on occasion, he says it’s important to take measures to combat it and especially if we find ourselves experiencing it frequently.
“Mindfulness is one of the very best ways to avoid and manage stress,” says David. “This is the practice of drawing awareness to our thoughts and feelings without judgement. “I would highly recommend it as a way of combating bad stress.”
For more information on stress and how to handle it visit mindlab.ie