What Is Positive Stress?

Vilma Ruddock
Woman working on laptop

Positive stress or eustress (also called good stress) is when you perceive a stressful situation as an opportunity that will lead to a good outcome. This positive expectation is in contrast to negative stress or distress when you perceive a stressor as a threat that will have a poor outcome.

The Concept

As reviewed in a 2012 article in the journal Stress, in 1974 McGill University physician and scientist Hans Selye used the concept of eustress and distress to distinguish a positive versus a negative response to stress. In an article, The Nature of Stress, published after his death in 1982, Selye explained that not all stress is bad for you, that in fact some stress is good for you; it just depends on how you "take it" and respond to it.

Positive Stress

A eustress or positive response to a stressor motivates you to deal with a challenge or accomplish a task. It helps you face what you have to face or fix what you have to fix. In the end, eustress can lead you to feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment, well-being and wholeness.

Negative Stress

With a negative stress or distress perception of a stressor, your response may be one of increased anxiety and fear and despair. This can result in chronic stress, anxiety, depression and physical illnesses.

The Elements of Positive Stress

According to an article on the concept of eustress in the World Journal of Medical Sciences, eustress and distress may occur at the same time when you first encounter a stressor. Eustress is more likely to prevail, however, if you had positive experiences and outcomes with stress in the past. Other important factors that help you view and respond positively to a stressful situation include:

  • A belief system and mindset of hope, great expectations and a positive outlook on life
  • Belief in yourself and your ability to manage the task/stressor
  • Your perception that you have power and control over the situation
  • You expect the best of yourself and others expect the same
  • Expectation of a reward

These factors give you positive feelings and affect while dealing with a challenge. In a study on stress in nurses reported in Health Care Management Review, other signs of positive stress included hopefulness and a sense of meaning and purpose.

Once the Stressor Is Gone

Once the stressor is gone, eustress leaves you upbeat or exhilarated rather than dejected. When the stress is over, your stress system is turned down and you return to your former state of balance. If, however, you stay on high alert and remain revved up instead, your good stress can evolve into the symptoms of negative stress.

Examples of Eustress

Examples of eustress where you are likely to meet a situation with a positive outlook and hope includes:

  • A desired physical activity such as weight training
  • Winning in sports competition
  • Taking an examination
  • The excitement of falling in love
  • Planning for a wedding
  • Planning a vacation
  • Labor and delivery
  • Meeting a work deadline
  • Managing the daily, repetitive stress of a job

Increasing eustress in the workplace is of current interest because stress in the workplace is a major source of distress and poor work performance and productivity. According to experts in an article in the Harvard Business Review, there are specific steps you can take to build positive stress and make stress work for you.

Motivation and Hope

Positive stress is a belief in a good outcome and your ability to cope and manage the stressor and the outcome. Put to good use it can help you stay motivated to accomplish a challenge and leave you feeling hopeful and exhilarated when the stress is done.

What Is Positive Stress?