August 13


Feeling Stressed Out? Good!

By Sue Ingebretson

August 13, 2013

anxiety, arthritis, autoimmune, cancer, endocrine, eustress, fibromyalgia, freaked out, Hans Selye, lupus, ME/CFS, MS, overwhelm, Stress, thyroid

Stress-GoodAre 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.

Let’s simplify.

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.

Stress and Fibromyalgia 

The Antidote to Stress 

Pets and Stress Management 

10 Tips to Tame Your Stress Tiger

What do you think about your own stress? Do you find that the majority of yours causes distress or eustress? Share below!

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  1. In my experience, my body reacts negatively to all kinds of stress. Happy and exciting stressors also lead to sleepless nights, stomach issues and increased pain. This is one of the biggest frustrations of FMS for me – that it doesn’t matter if I’m happy or sad, anything outside a Spock-like emotional calm leads to undesirable symptoms.

    1. Su – that’s a great analogy and one that many of us can relate to. Remember that the fibromyalgia (and/or autoimmune) body over-reacts to most emotions. Therefore, you’re right in that the emotions can be good or bad, yet have negative impact. The key is learning to discern the negative impact before it has a chance to become a chronic challenge. Stress management practices are absolutely vital. Thanks again for your comment!

  2. Charles Swindoll: “The longer I love, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church….a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I AM CONVINCED THAT LIFE IS 10% WHAT HAPPENS TO ME and 90% HOW I REACT TO IT. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.”

    1. Love this quote. Think I am going to print it out and post it everywhere in my house along with the quote from the above article about eustress! Thanks for sharing….I am new to this sight and suffer from chronic migraines, chronic never-ending lower back pain, and the wonderful fluctuations of FMS. I look forward to learning more about trying to feel better physically as well as emotionally/mentally through this sight!

      1. Michelle — so happy to see you here! Feel free to browse the nearly 200 blog posts here and check out topics of interest. The exciting thing is that there are SO many ways to heal and the important part is just to start. It doesn’t matter where you start, but just start.

  3. Sue, thank you for this great article. I too am fascinated by the topic if stress. The distinction between good and bad stress is important. For me, good stress actually energizes me and makes me feel empowered. Bad stress just makes me feel downright bad physically and emotionally. The key is to really be in touch with yourself and to know the signs of good versus bad stress. More importantly, knowing how to take control of bad stress and turn it around is most important, and it’s a work in progress. I’m still working on it. Thanks for the words of encouragement.


    1. Joan — your comments are so validating to this community. I couldn’t agree more, and thanks so much for sharing!

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