Good Stress, Bad Stress - Who Knows the Difference?
Introduction to Stress & Anxiety
Understanding stress, its causes and symptoms, is the best way to start dealing with harmful stress. In this article series, we discuss the differences between stress, distress and eustress. We expand on the uniqueness of everyone's categorisation of stressors (causes). Emotional pressure can be a killer and a lifesaver. In the next article, we will describe the physiology involved when we experience stress.
The way we deal with stress overload can ruin relationships and a person's usefulness in society, or it can create better lives for everyone. We will also explore the differences between stress and anxiety.
THIS ARTICLE SERIES WILL:
- Help you understand how stress and anxiety affect people differently.
- Give you insight into which stressors are not helpful for you.
- Inform you how you can reduce your stress
- Help you identify the symptoms of stress.
- Give you information that will help you reduce the symptoms of stress.
- Empower you to transform or eliminate negative stressors in your life.
- Help you avoid the transition from stress and anxiety to depression.
- Specify the benefits of a holistic approach to managing stress.
- Describe methods that treat the causes of stress, not the symptoms only.
- List coping mechanisms that will get you through periods of extreme stress.
THE DEFINITION OF STRESS
A dictionary definition of stress sounds something like this: 'Stress occurs when challenging or adverse circumstances create emotional or mental tension or strain.'
SYNONYMS EXPAND OUR UNDERSTANDING
Compare the following lists of synonyms for stress and anxiety; they may help clarify your understanding of the words:
SYNONYMS FOR STRESS
Tension, strain, tautness, pressure, tightness, worry, nervousness and anxiety.
SYNONYMS FOR ANXIETY
Worry, concern, apprehension, consternation, uneasiness, fear, disquiet, perturbation, fretfulness, agitation, angst, nervousness, edginess, tension, stress, misgiving, trepidation, foreboding and suspense.
You will notice that some synonyms used for stress and anxiety seem to be interchangeable and they tend to describe the symptoms or the emotional response to stress. In common usage, the meaning behind the word anxiety more often describes adverse emotional reactions to stress. You can have stress without anxiety, but you can't have anxiety without stress.
CONSIDER THE GAMBLING ADDICT
Read through the Synonyms for Anxiety above and consider how many of those feelings a gambling addict may experience over time. The gambler may experience some or even all of them. Also, when they have a win, they may experience euphoria, excitement, happiness, anticipation, sociability, gregariousness and elation.
EXTREME MOOD SWINGS
These adrenalin pumping mood swings are what addicts live for because they often mask or dull feelings of loneliness, inadequacy, guilt, worthlessness and emotional pain. So when the gambler stops gambling these memories and feelings come back and compound the anxiety related emotions created by the habit. They virtually 'buy' more stress and anxiety.
Types of Stress
STRESS, EUSTRESS AND DYSTRESS
We can categorise stress into three classes, Eustress (good stress), Stress (neutral stress) and Dystress (unhelpful or damaging stress). But as we are unique individuals with varying backgrounds, experiences, goals and expectations, our lists of good, neutral and harmful stressors will be different, even uniquely different. In other words, what one person might list as bad stressors, others might list as good.
As there are thousands of stressors, it will be unlikely that any two individuals will have identical lists. For example, I don't like olives, so if I see olives on my pizza, it is dystress for me, whereas someone who loves olives would experience eustress. The person who doesn't like or dislike olives would not have any significant emotional reaction to sitting down to an olive topped pizza, unless, maybe, they were starving to death.
LIFE IS A BIT OF A GAMBLE
There are many situations where there could be positive or negative outcomes, such as starting a new job, meeting someone for the first time, confronting someone, moving to a new community or asking your boss for a raise. Risks are everywhere, and with them come stress and anxiety. Life is unpredictable, in the social world in particular. We can take the gamble out of many situations by the way we think about them.
Have you ever had a day when the small stressors, which you usually handle quite well, become more difficult to deal with; when significant negative emotions overwhelm you? You will find that the cause of this change in emotional state can be found in additional stressors, depending on their magnitude and number. In this circumstance, additional stressful events pile on top of existing ones, leading to stress overload. Compounding stress is the result.
WHEN NEGATIVE EMOTIONS KICK IN
Stress overload, left untreated, triggers strong negative emotions which can lead to anxiety, depression and eventually chronic depression.
ANXIETY LINKED TO NEGATIVE EMOTIONS
Stress has more to do with the physiological effect of stressors whereas anxiety relates to our psychological response. Emotional reactions, positive or negative, are determined by the way we think about, events.
STRESS AND THE FRONTAL LOBES
The frontal lobes are where thinking, planning, analysing and interpreting happens. They are the seat of our emotions and our reactions to the social aspects of life. Our likes and dislikes, love and hate also centre there. If our logic and reasoning occur in the frontal lobes, imagine the impact made to our emotional reactions if the neurotransmitters there are not functioning correctly. Unfortunately, our lifestyle can either enhance or impair the neurochemistry of the brain.
AIMLESS DRIFTING OR GOAL ORIENTED
We handle eustress, or even dystress, better when they are essential to achieving a significant goal. We often, unconsciously, use a cost/benefit analysis of a stressful situation to determine whether the stress would be worth the reward. Those who don't set goals, or who find it difficult to delay gratification, experience higher levels of stress in stressful situations they cannot avoid. When it is possible, the aimless drifter side-steps stress but does not achieve much. On the other hand, the goal-oriented person puts up with more stress to achieve desired goals. The latter will find life much more rewarding.
Many are the stressors of which we are unaware. Even though we are unconscious of them, they still impact on our thinking, emotions, actions and reactions.
Consider this scenario. One day we are coasting along, thinking we are managing life's ups and downs quite well when we lose our self-composure and get angry over some little incident. We are dismayed and wonder why we 'lost it'. Under normal circumstances, we would not have become upset over such a trivial thing.
When incidents like this happen, it is because we are experiencing the impact of compounding stressors of which we are unaware. We will deal with managing stress and identifying stressors in future articles.
IDENTIFYING AND DEALING WITH STRESS
Identifying the precursors and dealing with stress is a very personal process. Consciously thinking about past and present circumstances that continue to add stress to life is traumatic for some. We cannot undo the past, but we can change the way we think about it. You will be amazed by the number of things you can do to reduce the impact and amount of stress you experience.
Some people are in a state of denial when it comes to identifying stressors in their lives. They deny the fact that there could be work to do to minimise the emotional damage that might be occurring. Often the stress they experience is a result of their own doing. It is too hard for them to admit that the incident may not be all the other person's fault after all. A denial means no progress in minimising or eliminating the cause of dystress. The emotions are stuffed down. The symptoms of stress are self-medicated with sports, movies, drugs, food, overwork, shopping or sleep.