Eustress, the light side of the force.

At the risk of harping on about stress again and again. I feel the positive side of stress and stressors doesn’t get enough attention. I could give you the cliche about diamonds and coal, or even that fear and suffering are the way of the dark side but that’s not really what I want to get across today.  Stress gets a bad press, it always seems to be mentioned in the context of anxiety and struggle but there are positive aspects to stress.  There is ‘good’ stress or eustress, it still gets you uncomfortable and nudges you outside of your comfort zone. It challenges your coping skills but it’s brief, infrequent and tackling it should boost your confident and amplify your mood.  Eustress is where the magic can happen!

Imagine your life without stress, ahhh sounds good yes?  No worries, no timetable, no consequences.  Now reframe stress as challenges and it might look quite different. What if you’d never had to learn to walk, to endure falling over as part of the process, what if you’d never been made to learn to read and write, to endure getting it wrong more times than right before moving forwards, what if you’d never had a deadline to meet, how much would you have achieved across life.  These scenarios were all stressful at the time but look where they got you. It’s a fine line between ‘bad’, or distress, and eustress but growth and progression come from the latter.

The key to whether you find stress good or bad is your ability to cope with it, or more specifically your perception of that ability.  Our stressors are very individual but generally, too little stress and we’ll underperform in what we’re doing, whereas too much for too long and we’ll stop coping.  Somewhere between the two is where that magic happens, where we grow, learn, generate confidence and where we raise the bar for distress.

I haven’t just written this to give a big shout out to eustress but to give you another coping tool for distress.  Change how you think about stress, it’s not all bad so don’t stick your head in the sand and pretend not to notice the stress around you.  Challenging yourself and growing will help with managing the stress that you feel you can’t deal with.  You may also find that if you sift through that list there’s stuff on there that you can deal with. So come up with a plan, endure the uncomfortable feeling as you work through it because on the other side is a big deep sigh of relief just waiting.

Helpful ways to challenge yourself and grow can be looking at your planned continuing professional development and direction you want to take your career.  Are you steering your career, your clinical day or just letting the path of least resistance guide you through?  Outside of work it can be pursuing and furthering hobbies, sports, skills you find enjoyable; anything that brings you joy or you can get lost in.  It might be cooking, swimming, yoga, golf, knitting or colouring in, what ever floats your boat.

Above all else extend the compassion you would have for a stressed friend to yourself, you wouldn’t repeatedly tell them how they should be doing better, that this shouldn’t stress them out.  I hope you’d reassure them, let them know it’s ok if this takes a while and a couple of goes to fix. You’d help them or suggest they see someone who could help them.