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Finding Ways to Maximize Positive Stress

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We all stress about having too much stress, whether at work, at home or even on vacation. But it turns out that the sensation of being involuntarily excited comes in two categories—and one of them is actually good for you!

First off, let’s talk about the kind of stress that everyone knows about. This is called distress and it refers to the negative emotions and physiological symptoms of our bodies reacting to change. You know what distress feels like:

  • Physical tension in your joints
  • Sweat despite the lack of extreme exertion
  • Feelings of loss, frustration and futility
  • Spiraling, racing thoughts

Dr. Laura Schenck points out that these kinds of strains may be positive or negative:

The manner in which stress affects us depends upon how we choose to think about stress, use stress, and respond to stress.  Stress is not always a “bad” thing.  Stress motivates us to change our behaviors and move us closer to our chosen goals, dreams, and aspirations.  If we felt no stress, we would not be compelled to act in ways that bring about meaningful change.

business process improvement consultants talk stressors

© Flickr user sixuntilme

On the other hand, there are forms of positive stress. Think about the sensation that comes from watching a thrilling movie: you don’t know what’s going to happen, but you are excited to find out. Or, consider the feelings that comes from healthy competition. This emotion can be exhilarating.

Eustress is positive experience that helps us to be more productive and better enjoy our work and our life. You might be feeling eustress when:

  • You are moving quickly due to anticipation about a desired outcome
  • You find yourself able to maintain laser-sharp focus because there’s a reasonable deadline which helps corporate productivity
  • You are thrilled by the fact that you have many “balls in the air” but are juggling them handily

The crucial psychological difference between eustress and distress is the difference between genuine productivity and results-under-duress. Sure, you can get people to do things because they are afraid, but we all know that we get better results when people feel inspired. There is a fundamental and inseparable connection between productivity productivity growth and satisfaction. When we are doing meaningful work and we feel the excitement of getting it done, we are leveraging eustress. That’s the key to great experiences at work.

It’s important to remember that the line between distress and eustress can often be a very fine one. A great example of this is clear to anyone who’s ever run a track race. There’s a feeling of butterflies in your stomach, anxiousness, and a bit of worry as you step to the line. Waiting for the starter to blow the gun can be agonizing. Oftentimes, runners frame that stress as distress, when really, they’re excited for the race they’re about to run and simply ready to get on with it. Framing things in the right way can make all the difference.

The same can be said for workplace stressors. Do you really need to be distressed about the multiple projects you’re working on, or can you feel eustress about the fact that you’re a valued member of an organization who is able to handle many projects at the same time? Before defaulting to feelings of distress, take a second to reframe things. Sometimes a bit of mental tweaking can be the difference between a healthy stressor and an unhealthy one.

To learn more about healthy stressors, contact our business improvement consultants AccelaWork. We’d love to help you separate eustress from distress at your organization. We’d love to help you become more productive, more efficient, more effective and more satisfied at work.

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