From Distress to Eustress: turning negative stress into positive stress

October 9, 2018  |   Found in Editorial

The Students’ Union held a Stressbuster Workshop for students on September 18, focusing on positive stress, and how to turn negative stress into positive stress. If you missed the workshop or want a refresher on positive stress, this post has you covered.

When we think of stress, what usually comes to mind are negative experiences: having to move out of your parent’s house, buying groceries with only $50 left in the bank, or having to balance your social life with your academic success. When we think of stress this way, it is easy to see why people often have negative reactions to stressful situations.

Eustress is essentially the opposite of distress; it means having a positive reaction to stressors, making this stress motivating and fulfilling instead of anxiety inducing and emotionally unpleasant

A ‘distress’ or negative reaction to these stressful situations is generally caused by instances that seem out of our control. Take for example moving out of your parents’ house. Perhaps instead of preparing for moving out, you procrastinate until you are completely moved out to face all the stressors that come with living on your own. This can cause a negative reaction to stress, which is potentially harmful. In other words, what results is a ‘distress’ reaction where you might feel like giving up, allowing even more stressors to build up. This distress can cause anxiety, be emotionally unpleasant, and can cause mental and physical problems in the future.

Is there a way to avoid this distress, considering all these stressful experiences we are confronted with as undergraduates?

The exciting news is, yes, there is a possibility to avoid distress when dealing with stressful situations: eustress. There are also methods to avoid entering stressful situations at all! Eustress is essentially the opposite of distress; it means having a positive reaction to stressors, making this stress motivating and fulfilling instead of anxiety inducing and emotionally unpleasant.

The reality is that a lot of people don’t understand that it is not stressful situations themselves that necessarily cause negative feelings and experiences, but rather an individual’s reaction to stressful situations. The goal should be to have the tools and understanding necessary to react to stress with eustress, and not distress.

There are two ways that you can turn distress reactions to eustress reactions:

  • Address stress! Address stressful situations head on, as avoiding stressful situations and their causes often results in a distress reaction. Addressing stress also means addressing stress positively. Instead of dreading or resenting stressors in your life, address stressors with vigor and hope! View stressful situations as obstacle that you can overcome, or goals that you can achieve.
  • Know your limits! By knowing your own limits, you will better be able to gauge how much stress you are able to handle, before your reaction to stressors shifts from eustress to distress. By knowing what you are capable of, you can avoid placing yourself in situations where the stress is too great to respond with eustress. For example, know how much work you can complete in one day, or how many breaks you need to work at peak performance.

None of this is to say that you can avoid stress your whole life. Instead, you can work to avoid creating more stressful situations for yourself, where it can be to hard to react to stressors with eustress. Even further, by knowing your own abilities and limits, you can know what you are capable of when stressful situations come out of nowhere. View the stressor as a challenge to be overcome. And remember, it is not stressful situations that cause negative repercussions, but rather our reactions to them. Know your own abilities and address the damn stress!

The SU is hosting a Stress Buster Workshop series. Join us for our next event on Oct. 16 in Clubs Workroom 7!


Justine is a final year Indigenous Studies and Political Science student, and a research assistant at the Students’ Union. Her passions include Dana Scully and getting expensive tattoos. She is currently trying to perfect her French because a student advisor once told her she’d never get a good paying job speaking zero French, and that scared her merde-less.