By: Ethan Hsiao
There are things in life that you can’t possibly hope to control. Among them, socks.
They go in the washer as a pair and no matter how hard you may try to keep them that way, those cotton-polyester foot warmers always manage to come out alone. In other words, the result remains unchanged, regardless of any wishes otherwise. Cut from the same cloth are rainy days, tangled earbuds, and empty toilet paper rolls — uncontrollable occurrences of life that we’ve come to accept and, eventually, let go of. So, I find it a bit ironic when that sentiment no longer holds true when it comes to stress.
This narrative isn't a coming-of-age Disney movie nor is it the tired spiel of a middle school counselor. It’s reality. As cliché as it may be, the only thing we can truly control is how we react to stress and, even then, we’re choosing to ignore that crossroad, that ability to choose. The most pressing question isn’t if stress is bad, but rather how we decide to handle it and where we draw the line. As it happens, finding that answer takes no more than a glance at the title: “I Stress, You Stress, We All Stress for… Stress?”.
Nine words in total and perhaps too alike to a certain saying about screaming and ice cream, the boldly marked headline of this post reminds us that there’s a spectrum upon which stress lies. Eustress, pronounced “you-stress” (pun very much intended), is a term used to describe the beneficial stressors in our life. Dr. Nanika Coor, a licensed psychologist, breaks it down a bit further in explaining that “eustress is a kind of ‘doable stress’... [where] you feel out of your comfort zone [but] in a good way”. Seen in the words euphoria, euphonious, and eureka, even the stem of the word takes to this beneficial presence, the Greek prefix eu- literally translating to good. For teens, this could be anything from the thrill of a roller coaster ride to the determination of acing that midterm exam. But, like all things, there exists another side of the story.
In direct parallel to eustress is the negative force of distress; rather than motivating or focusing, it tears you down, conjuring unpleasant feelings of anxiety, concern, and helplessness. Sadly, the death of a loved one or a traumatic experience often falls within these criteria. From a more detailed perspective, the American Psychological Association formally defines distress as a “type of stress that results from being overwhelmed by demands, losses, or perceived threats”. This definition is powerful alone, making note of “serious health risks” and “detrimental effects”. What speaks volumes, however, is the final and rather shocking statement left with readers: “this generally is the intended meaning of the word stress”.
Especially now, I think it’s about time we change that definition.
Life during the pandemic has been a trying period for teens and adults alike. With the constant worries of family, friends, and school, stress has become completely unavoidable. Still, that doesn’t mean everything has to be “bad”. As the American College of Cardiology explains, we’re “sliding down [a] slope” and it'll be “hard to go back up the incline”. Only by shifting the narrative away from these polarized notions of stress can we begin to spotlight a new discussion, unhindered by misconceptions or stubborn ways of thinking. In the end, all that matters is perspective.
I know it sounds like yet another overused platitude and, to an extent, it is. Yet, it’s also a keen insight into how you can command the stressors present in your daily life; by transforming hardships into an opportunity for growth, you can better manage your stress. Joel Kosman, a clinical social worker, reveals that the interpretation of an event often determines its impact. The bottom line is that a negative or overwhelmed viewpoint can make it “that much harder to move forward”. However, if you choose to look at a stressful experience as motivation for the future, you can begin the transition from distress to eustress.
That still isn’t enough, though.
The Axis Group recommends that you actively pursue eustress by engaging in a hobby or a long-term project, anything that you can invest your time and energy into. It should be reasonably challenging while also satisfying; the goal is to give yourself a healthy distraction, not an extra chore. Whether it be learning to paint calligraphy or playing a sport, eustress can and should be exciting. Set a timeframe, be committed, and achieve your end goal — the impact it’ll have on your mental well-being is more than worth it.
And so, ending where we once began, I return to my earlier words: there are things in life that you can’t possibly hope to control. Moving forward, understand that no one truly knows when stress will strike. The best you can do is stay informed, be prepared, and remain vigilant. Most of all, remind yourself:
Stop distressing about stress and start accepting it.
“Eustress vs Distress: Zencare Blog.” The Couch: A Therapy & Mental Wellness Blog, The Couch: A Therapy & Mental Wellness Blog, 15 Apr. 2019, blog.zencare.co/eustress-vs-distress/.
“The Expanding Scope of Clinician Well-Being.” American College of Cardiology, 28 Apr. 2020, www.acc.org/latest-in-cardiology/articles/2020/04/28/10/42/the-expanding-scope-of-clinician-well-being-covid-19-coronavirus-disease-2019.
Group, Axis. “Challenging COVID-19 – Eustress.” Axis, 15 Apr. 2020, www.axis-groupservices.co.uk/post/challenging-covid-19-eustress.
Mills, Harry. “Types of Stressors (Eustress vs. Distress).” Permia Care, www.pbmhmr.com/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc.
Stoddard, Jill. “When You Are Stressed About Stress You Are Stressed.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 10 Sept. 2019, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/be-mighty/201909/when-you-are-stressed-about-stress-you-are-stressed.
“Turn Your Stress into Eustress - Office of Advancement.” UIS, www.uis.edu/advancement/alumni/alumni-resources/alumnihood-series/turn-your-stress-into-eustress/.
“7 Ways to Manage Anxiety During the COVID-19 Crisis.” Rutherford Source, 20 May 2020, rutherfordsource.com/7-ways-to-manage-anxiety-during-covid-19-crisis/.