What Is Eustress And What Are All The Ways You Can Benefit From It?

As human beings just trying to live our best lives, it's safe to say that each of us is intimately familiar with stress. After all, results from the 2022 Stress in America survey conducted by the American Psychological Association show that many Americans are more stressed than ever. In fact, 35% of respondents reported feeling "completely stressed out" no matter what they did to manage their stress.

What you may not realize is that some stress can actually be good for you. Positive stress, or eustress, is exactly what it implies: it is a form of stress — whether physical, psychological, or emotional — that has positive or beneficial results. Medical professionals are increasingly mindful of the essential role that eustress plays in our lives. According to licensed professional counselor Casey Lee, M.A., "eustress produces positive feelings of excitement, fulfillment, meaning, satisfaction, and well-being" (via Healthline).

Even though stress — be it eustress or its evil twin, distress — has a habit of naturally finding its way into our lives, reaping the benefits of positive stress often depends on the situation and how you approach it. Here's everything you need to know about eustress and all the ways you can benefit from it.

Positive work stress can lead to increased motivation and productivity

Not all stress is created equally, and nowhere is that more evident than in the workplace. According to a recent report from Indeed, workers who practice a positive stress mindset — or view stress as a challenge to be embraced — enjoy greater motivation and focus, make fewer mistakes, and are generally happier than their negative-minded counterparts. The report further points out that the overall environment of a workplace, as well as the amount of support workers receive from management or leadership, can influence our perception of stress. In other words, practicing and benefitting from a positive stress mindset at work will be easier in a positive environment.

How can you incorporate a positive stress mindset into your work life? Self-talk can be a powerful force for change if your thoughts tend to skew to the negative. When your inner voice expresses doubt, don't be afraid to challenge it. Indeed's report also suggests building your career around something that you care about, even if that means making a job change. When you're passionate about what you're doing, you're more likely to view your job in a positive light.

Experience stress in a safe environment with scary movies

Ah, horror movies. Is there anything more relaxing than sitting down to enjoy a full hour and a half of hair-raising, nail-biting, hiding-under-the-blanket suspense? Bonus points if zombies, chainsaws, or nefarious spirits are involved.

Strangely enough, science has long held that watching media specifically created to give your adrenal system a kickstart may actually lead to an abundance of health benefits, including increased relaxation. When you experience fear in the form of a well-timed jumpscare or otherwise, your body releases the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, essentially triggering your fight-or-flight response. Physical benefits of being terrified by an onscreen killer, monster, homicidal doll, etc. include an increase in blood circulation and even weight loss. (A recent study via The Guardian found that a person can burn up to 184 calories per movie.) But the real stars of the show are the mental health benefits.

An Aarhus University study published in the journal Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences found that watching frightening films can, paradoxically, have a positive effect on the ability to regulate one's emotions. The key is in the control. According to study co-author Mathias Clasen, "there may be a relief in seeking out situations that give you a blast of well-defined fear with a clear source and a crucial element of control" (via Psycom).

Use first-date jitters to take on the unknown and boost curiosity

Wading out into the dating world is a stressful activity on its own regardless of your experience level. But nothing is more notoriously nerve-racking than a first date. Symptoms of first-date jitters include a pounding chest, sweating, headaches, and a feeling of butterflies in the stomach; essentially, anxiety triggers your fight-or-flight response. But it turns out that the pre-date jitters are a form of eustress, meaning that those unpleasant symptoms are actually good for you in the long run.

In a conversation with Fashion Journal, couples counselor Mim Kempson attributes date-related nerves to uncertainty and fear of the unknown. Focusing on those fears can easily lead you into a negative space (hello, intrusive self-talk!), but embracing them with a positive stress mindset can lead to benefits such as boosted confidence and curiosity. According to Mim, your anxiety and how you approach it can even teach you a thing or two about yourself and what it is you're looking for in a partner.

See the positive opportunities in a breakup

On the other end of the relationship spectrum, breakups are famous for the amount of pain, grief, and overall stress they can inflict. And unfortunately, the odds are that most people will experience multiple breakups during their lifetime. Though messy and unpleasant from any angle, that doesn't mean that all stress associated with breakups is a bad thing. Studies, like one published by the American Psychological Association (APA), have shown that good things can result from a little heartbreak.

According to the APA's findings, breakup stress is directly linked to self-examination and personal growth. While some distress may be unavoidable at first, the positives will shine through, especially if you put in the effort to look for them. Other commonly experienced benefits of breakup eustress are a sense of freedom and motivation to pursue personal goals, as well as an increased ability to handle problems that may arise in future relationships.

Take your workout to the next level

We've established the many countless emotional and psychological benefits of eustress, but what about the advantages of physical eustress? According to Bodybuilding.com, physical eustress is not only beneficial but it's also absolutely essential to exercising properly. Here's how it works: You want to take your fitness goals up a notch, so you plan a particularly challenging workout. You know that it's going to be a little uncomfortable, but you also know that you're up to the task. During the workout, you stress muscles more than you would in a usual workout, being careful not to go beyond your breaking point. (That would cross the line into distress.) 

Afterward, you may be exhausted and experience some soreness, but you feel a sense of achievement from having successfully completed your challenge. And in addition, you know that the achiness in your body is a sign that you're progressing toward your fitness goals. In this case, putting your body through an extra bit of stress was a good thing. But the rewards don't stop there. More positive side effects of physical eustress are increased energy, motivation to continue exercising, and even a boost in short-term happiness á la the release of your brain's happy chemicals, known as endorphins.

Tackle public speaking and reap the rewards

Fear of public speaking, or glossophobia, is a major stressor for many people. In fact, findings from the Chapman University Survey on American Fears published by The Washington Post found that fear of public speaking, at 25.3%, was the most prevalent phobia among respondents. It even beat out fear of heights, bugs, and drowning for the top spot.

The benefits of eustress associated with public speaking, specifically tackling an aversion towards speaking publicly, can have a long-lasting and positive impact on your career as well as your personal life. According to another recent report by Indeed, public speaking is a highly valuable skill, but it takes effort and willingness to undergo some amount of discomfort in order to reap the rewards. When dealing with a phobia, it takes commitment in order to take full advantage of eustress' transformative power.

Direct benefits of taking a positive stress mindset in such an endeavor are a feeling of empowerment as you watch your natural abilities progress, greater confidence, and improved relationships. Bonus benefits of conquering your fear can include opportunities for career advancement and enhanced professional skills like researching, writing, and leadership.

Enlighten yourself by embracing travel stress

Is there anything better than planning an exciting new adventure to break up the monotony of the work-sleep-repeat grind? Escaping to a far (or not-so-far) away place and simply turning off your notifications can be an enormous relief from the strains of daily life. That being said, travel itself can be one of the most rewarding as well as one of the most stressful activities a person can undertake. According to the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers, some major stressors of travel include language barriers, culture shock, and unexpected situations. But believe it or not, it's that same anxiety that makes travel an integral part of healthy self-growth.

When you bump up against one of the aforementioned stressors, such as an unexpected situation in a strange place, you get an opportunity to flex your own problem-solving skills. Culture shock can be overwhelming, but it can also lend you a new way of looking at the world and the problems that people face. Likewise, struggling with a language barrier can result in greater empathy when you find yourself at the mercy of a fellow human's kindness. Whether you choose to venture into a new city in your home state or a new country halfway around the world, remember to embrace stress with a positive mindset for the best results.

Boost your sense of accomplishment by setting realistic goals

There are literally dozens of scientific studies and years' worth of research proving that setting and aspiring toward realistic goals is crucial to leading a happy and fulfilling life. This includes research from the Technical University of Darmstadt, which precisely pinpoints this. The benefits of goal setting range from sharper focus to increased accountability and personal growth, but setting a goal is far easier than actually reaching it. Achieving any goal is going to take effort, and depending on your aim, chances are that you will start to feel stressed out at some point along the way.

Of course, this is another example of eustress versus distress, where the outcome depends heavily on whether you choose to handle stress in a positive or negative way. When you meet resistance on the way to accomplishing your goal, you can either become discouraged, or you can learn from the momentary setback and use the challenge as motivation to keep trying.

The key to keeping goals in the realm of positive stress is to be realistic from the beginning. It's much easier to become discouraged and fall into a negative stress mindset when you set the bar too high for yourself. Shooting for the stars is perfectly fine, so long as you are realistic with your expectations. If in doubt, just remember the SMART criteria set out by the University of California: ask yourself if the goal you have in mind is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

Introverts: find the right kind of socialization

An introvert is a person who draws energy and inspiration from time spent on their own, as opposed to an extrovert, or a person who draws energy from being around other people. Introverts tend to be more selective about their social circle, and prefer to discuss meaningful topics rather than engage in small talk. According to data gathered by The Myers-Briggs Company, 56.8% of the population lean towards introversion.

Though introverts perceive and process socialization differently from their extroverted counterparts, and many introverts do enjoy regular social outings, most can agree that meeting new people or spending long stretches of time around unfamiliar faces can be a draining affair. Interestingly, studies like one from the Free University of Berlin have even linked introversion to higher rates of negative stress and anxiety.

Of course, it isn't fair to generalize. Socialization doesn't mean the same thing to every person. However, there are ample benefits to stepping outside one's comfort zone, even if it seems stressful at first. Framing this stress in a positive light can lead to deeper friendships, improved mental health, and can even increase longevity, according to a study published in the journal PLOS Medicine

Challenge yourself with a new hobby

Hobbies are an essential element of self-care. Be it gardening, yoga, scrapbooking, or any number of options, engaging in a hobby you love promotes relaxation and contributes to your overall well-being. They're a great way to switch from work mode to life mode and can even end up building valuable life skills that you'll use outside of you-time.

Trying out a new hobby, particularly one that challenges you in some way, can take those benefits a step further. The key to any such challenge is to recognize that some amount of stress and frustration is simply part of the growth process. If you've decided you would like to learn a martial art, for instance, you can't expect to increase your skill level without meeting resistance. Likewise, you can't expect to benefit fully from a creative or challenging hobby without undergoing some amount of eustress.

Research from Kettering University further emphasizes the importance of selecting the right hobby for you. For example, if you hate cooking, you wouldn't challenge yourself to learn how to cook a killer five-course meal. Or if one of your goals in choosing a hobby is to spend more time outdoors, you wouldn't necessarily choose to immerse yourself in the world of video games. Be mindful of the things that you genuinely enjoy and pick accordingly.

Look for the positives in major life changes

Whether we like it or not, sometimes life happens. Be it a marriage, a divorce, a career change, or a move, there are always going to be pros and cons to consider when a major event or transition impacts your life. And there's no guarantee that these disruptive changes are going to be within your control.

In such instances, stress comes as part of the territory. According to bestselling author Bruce Feiler (via Citizen Advocates), how well you handle any given major change will largely come down to how you react to things that are out of your control. Practicing a positive stress mindset now can prepare you to better handle major stressors that you may encounter in the future.

Look for ways that you can take control of the stress in your life and turn it into beneficial eustress, rather than letting it overwhelm you. It's also worth keeping in mind that, in many cases, the greater the stress, the greater the rewards. Yes, marriage, divorce, and career changes all represent stressful life transitions. But in the end, you will be rewarded with a lifelong partner, increased freedom, or a renewed sense of fulfillment in your job.

Keep all stress in perspective

When it comes to the eustress versus distress dynamic, balance and perspective are absolutely vital to reaping the benefits. Understand that stress is fluid: what starts out as eustress can turn into distress without the proper perspective, and likewise, it's possible for distress to transform into eustress given the right situation and the right outlook.

In a post written for the Oxford University Press blog, Dr. Richard Wanlass warns against the hazards of catastrophizing, or exaggerating the danger of a situation until it seems insurmountable. The only thing catastrophizing accomplishes is a buildup of distress, which offers no benefit and ultimately harms your overall health.

Don't underestimate the power of positivity. Countless scientific studies, like one published in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy, have found that maintaining a positive outlook often translates into positive outcomes. In order to get into a positive stress (or eustress) mindset, start with prioritizing yourself and your health. Be confident that you are worthy, and endeavor to practice self-compassion. After all, when you get down to it, incorporating eustress as part of a healthy lifestyle is an act of self-care.