The Difference Between Good Stress and Bad Stress


Stress affects us all from time to time, and it’s all too easy to ignore the signs when things are getting on top of us. But did you know that there’s such a thing as ‘good’ stress too? Stress actually has a purpose, and sometimes we need some of it in our lives. Those people who say they strive under pressure? They’re experience this so-called good stress. They’re utilising the body’s fight or flight reaction and instead of weighing them down, the stress is motivating them to perform better. But how do we draw the line between good and bad stress, and how do we ensure that we spot the signs when it’s no longer enhancing performance?

In the UK, we lose 13.7 million working days each year due to work-related stress, depression and anxiety. 76% of workers say that work causes them stress, with 33% saying that it’s so bad they feel their productivity is negatively impacted. But 54% say that the ‘perfect amount’ of stress helps them to succeed at work, so how do we find the balance? (Workplace Health Report)

Is too much stress a bad thing?

Even if we find that stress keeps us going, helps us to produce our best work and enables us to stay engaged with the task- can too much of that be a bad thing? Yes. Anything in excess can have detrimental effects, and when it comes to stress, the implications for physical and mental health are huge.

What happens to the body when we’re stressed?

Whether it’s good or bad, stress has an affect on the body. It raises levels of hormones called cortisol and adrenaline, which triggers a physical response. Your heart will start racing, your breathing becomes faster and more shallow. You might sweat, your hands become clammy and you feel churning in your stomach.

We’re all affected in different ways, and this is the body’s normal reaction to stress. These reactions help us to either focus, or to flee. We either want to tackle the situation head on, or we want to run from it as fast as we can, and the body is ready for either option.

What is good stress?

Good stress is referred to by experts as Eustress. It's the stress that helps us to focus, to stay on task and to tackle challenges head on. It’s the stress that we relish at work- we feel energised, motivated and ‘on top of our game’. It’s short term and it’s beneficial in many situations: going on a first date, having an important job interview, meeting a tight deadline. In each of these scenarios, we use good stress to power us through to the finish line, and we perform better for being under a little pressure.

Good stress can leave us feeling excited, and wanting more. And it’s these short bursts of adrenaline that helps us to accomplish goals in life and in work.

What is bad stress?

Bad stress is known as Distress in the medical world, and that word alone gives you an idea of its effect on the body and mind. Generally more long term, bad stress can have opposite side-effects, despite triggering the same physical reactions in the moment. That release of cortisol over longer period of time can actually slow you down and prevent you from thinking clearly. The human body is not built to be in ‘flight or fight’ mode for long periods of time. Long term stress can have a severe physical and emotional impact that really cannot be ignored.

According to a report by Champion Health, 79% of UK workers say that they experience stress in the workplace, and 7% say they experience this every single day. 51% of adults who feel stressed say that this led to feelings of depression, and 61% reported feeling anxious. If left untreated or unacknowledged, bad stress can build up and it’s not just mental health that can suffer. Stress can also lead to issues with your physical health too, as your body struggles to keep up with the constant state of heightened threat.

How to deal with stress

It’s not always easy to spot the signs when we’re feeling stressed, and often it creeps up on us without us even realising. But the warning signs will be there:

  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trouble focusing
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships

Taking steps to deal with your stress in a healthy way is essential and there are several simple lifestyle changes that you can make today, to help ease the load.

  • Maintain a healthy diet- avoid heavily processed foods that are high in sugar and salt, and limit alcohol and caffeine. 29% of workers in the UK stay they started drinking due to stress; It’s easy to fall into the trap of having a drink to ease the strains of the day, but this can quickly become part of the problem for many.
  • Practise mindfulness or meditation- being in the moment and taking time out to put work aside for an hour or two can be hugely beneficial. Take a moment to breathe and use slow breathing techniques in moments of stress too.
  • Set boundaries for yourself and others- this can be an uncomfortable process, but in the long run it can pay huge dividends. Knowing when to say no is powerful.
  • Take regular exercise- let off steam on a run, or hit the gym after a busy day. Whatever you do, move your body regularly and you’ll reap the benefits. Exercise releases endorphins into the body- our natural ‘feel good’ hormones, that help to boost your mood and clear your mind.
  • Talk about it- keeping everything bottled up is never a good idea. Sharing the load with someone you trust can be a fantastic way to ease stress, but you might feel more comfortable with a mental health professional instead. Either way, talking about what’s going on can really help, so don’t keep it to yourself.


Posted by: Branwell Ford