Are you feeling stressed out lately? If you have fibromyalgia and any other health challenge – especially a chronic condition – the answer to that is probably, yes. And, here’s a trippy question to think about. Can stress actually be good? Today we’ll dive into some new and interesting aspects of stress sure to surprise, enlighten, and hopefully, embolden you to take action!
We each feel stress a bit differently. Maybe your heart pounds in your chest, your palms feel clammy, and your mouth feels dry as you try to swallow that massive-feeling lump in your throat. Your thoughts race and you’re unable to focus on anything because you feel completely overwhelmed, overworked, and oversensitive.
If so, that’s not the kind of stress that I’m talking about today.
What I’m referring to here, is the kind of stress that’s good. Yep, you heard me:
Stress CAN be good.
But wait, aren’t the side effects of stress related to inflammation, heart disease, and other devastating chronic health challenges? You bet.
The type of stress I’m discussing today is one that has benefits, not detriments. In fact – it’s all about YOU. It’s called eustress and is even pronounced YOU-stress.
Never heard of it? Well, the Hungarian endocrinologist, Hans Seyle (1907-1982), would be greatly disappointed to hear that. He coined the phrase, eustress (as opposed to distress), using the Greek prefix “eu” meaning “good.”
He found that stress isn’t always bad. In fact, some physiological responses to stress can actually be good. For example, good stress (eustress) can actually propel you forward to tackle health challenges head on. Good stress can help you to build a healthy tolerance to or resilience for otherwise unhealthy circumstances.
Good stress, in other words,
can help to build the core
of who you are
and what makes you tick.
I find it interesting that studies on this segmentation of stress effects were done by an endocrinologist. To recap your high school physiology lessons, the endocrine system is responsible for metabolism, respiration, excretion, movement, reproduction, and sensory perception.
Do you see how fibromyalgia (specifically) and many other chronic illness conditions such as arthritis, ME/CFS, lupus, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, cancer, thyroid disorders, adrenal dysfunction, various autoimmune conditions, etc. are ALL deeply affected by ANYTHING that disrupts the endocrine system?
The effects of stress, therefore, are to be taken VERY seriously.
So … how you do know if the stress reactions you’re feeling toward a particular circumstance are good or bad? It’s not like every stressful scenario fits neatly into one category or the other. In fact, many stressful situations can create both distress and eustress.
YOU get to decide if any particular stressful situation is good or bad. Analyze each situation — do you feel threatened or challenged? In other words, are you overwhelmed and freaked out or do you feel a sense of tension or butterflies in your stomach?
Freaked out, by the way, doesn’t have to be all that obvious to the world. You may be calm on the outside (i.e., “Don’t worry … I’m fine!”) but the inside anxiety levels tell another story. Here’s a quote about F.I.N.E. from one of my favorite movies, The Italian Job.
If you didn’t catch the details from the link to the YouTube clip above, F.I.N.E. stands for the following:
F – Freaked Out
I – Insecure
N – Neurotic
E – Emotional
As you can imagine, different people perceive stressful circumstances differently. For some, a vacation zip line excursion could cause eustress (exhibiting a pounding heart, increased blood pressure, shortness of breath, etc.). This could be perceived as excitement. For others, even the thought of that same excursion could cause physical distress (heart palpitations that feel more threatening than exciting).
The benefits of eustress are often mentioned in relation to the workplace, which makes sense since work-related stress can have positive ramifications. Eustress is usually considered short-term and leads to self-assurance, coping, performance, and motivation.
In Selye’s book, Stress Without Distress, his definitions of stress – and our choices in how we react to it – strike me as more philosophical than scientific. Of course, the book is filled with technical descriptions of the physiological science of stress. But more so, Selye paints an over-arching theme of generosity, gratitude, compassion, and goodwill of the the human spirit.
He points out that —
“In the final analysis, our feelings
(positive, negative, or of indifference)
are the most important factors
governing our behavior in everyday life.
They’re responsible for our anxieties or peace of mind,
our sense of security or insecurity,
of fulfillment or frustration;
in short, they determine whether we can
make a success of life
by enjoying its challenging stress
without suffering distress.”
Well said, Selye.
Stress is a favorite study subject of mine — especially the topic of stress management. Here are a additional posts on the topic you may wish to peruse.
What do you think about your own stress? Do you find that the majority of yours causes distress or eustress? Share below!