How Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno grappled with depression in anime -  Polygon

We all know that stress is a common and normal physical response to challenging or new situations. Generally, we see stress as a bad thing - no one likes feeling overwhelmed. But having said that, not all stress is the same and we all need some stress to activate our behaviour.

That's right, there is such thing called 'healthy' stress.

It's called eustress and we're going to take a deep dive into what this is, how does it compare to 'negative' stress (or distress), and what you can do to reduce distress.

Just remember that if you need support or someone to talk to, our Sonder support team is available 24/7 to chat whenever you need it.

What exactly is eustress?

To put it simply: Eustress is a product of excited nerves that get brought on when faced with a challenge.

Whereas distress tends to result in negative feelings of being overwhelmed and anxiety when facing a difficult situation, eustress sits on the opposite end of the spectrum where an exciting new challenge or situation causes your body to release hormones that make you feel confident, focused, and motivated. Some of the positive effects you may feel from a hit of eustress include:

  • Greater concentration and focus

  • Greater confidence and resilience in taking on new challenges

  • Greater motivation to pursue goals

  • Feeling happier and healthier in general.

Eustress is associated with positive outcomes and situations, such as:

  • Big life changes: These can be changes like getting a new job, being involved in a new relationship, and becoming a new parent.

  • Smaller everyday challenges: These can be little things like going on a rollercoaster ride, watching a fun and/or scary movie, and a tough workout.

  • New challenges: Exploring the unknown, like travelling, diving into a new hobby, or going on a first date, may initially come with discomfort but can also provide excitement and the opportunity for new discoveries.

Eustress vs distress

Like distress, eustress is a common and natural response to challenges. It is also important as our wellbeing will suffer if we don't have any eustress in our lives. We need this type of 'healthy' stress to help contribute to feelings of optimism and excitement in our lives. In fact, our system needs some stress simply to get out of bed in the morning!

Physically, the signs of eustress are broadly similar to distress - such as feeling nervous, having several thoughts at once, and feeling your heart pound - but the difference is how these sensations are perceived. Whereas distress is associated with feelings of discomfort and being overwhelmed, eustress may make you feel excited or a sense of anticipation, caused by an increase in adrenaline.

There may be instances where distress can be transformed into eustress. Situations like losing a job or a breakup will be challenging initially, but the associated negative feelings can then change into an opportunity for growth as time goes on.

How to reduce distress (i.e. 'bad' stress)

There's no one-size-fits-all fix for alleviating distress, but there are some techniques that can help:

Practise breathing and muscle relaxation techniques

Try some breathing exercises to help calm you down and slow your breathing whenever you feel anxious:

  • The 4–7–8 technique: Breathe in for four seconds. Hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale for eight seconds.

  • Long exhale: Spend a bit longer exhaling than you do inhaling. Exhale fully, and then take a big, deep breath for four seconds. Then exhale for six seconds.

You can also try the ‘body scan’ technique which helps you to focus on yourself and release tension you’re holding in your body.

Breathe in and tense the muscles in your face, squeezing your eyes shut. Clench your jaw and keep your face tensed for five seconds. Gradually relax your muscles over the time it takes to count to ten, then take a deep breath. You can say ‘relax’ as you relax. Next, move on to your neck and shoulders, and gradually move down your body. Be careful with any injuries or pain that you have.

Focus on the present and helpful thoughts

Focusing your mind on the present moment can help you feel a little more relaxed. Make an effort to think helpful thoughts by looking for opportunities in every situation - a positive mindset will help you deal with any potential challenge or difficulty.

Take a break

Schedule regular breaks into your day so you can have some time to yourself. Whether it's squeezing in some breathing exercises, getting some fresh air, doing some light stretches to help you relax, or squeezing in a work out, having some "me time" is important to help you destress.

Talk to someone you trust about how you're feeling

Just talking to family and friends about how you’re feeling can take a weight off your shoulders. Make sure you trust the person, work out what you want to say to them, and then just go for it as it can be cathartic to express your feelings rather than bottling them up.

If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Image credit: Neon Genesis Evangelion

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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