Positive Stress Response: Why Not All Stress Is Negative
By: Edward Bondi
We all encounter differing circumstances in life that elicit different types of stress responses. The reactions we experience vary from an individual case basis and have both physical and/or mental outcomes. However, stress need not exude a negative connotation. Positive stress “Involves one’s perception that a stressor is within their capabilities. As a result instead of overwhelming them, the stressor increases motivation, focus, and positive thoughts.”. The result of positive stress aka Eustress manifests itself through a positive stress response.
What is a Stress Response?
A stress response (fight or flight response), whether negative or positive, is the blending of physical and mental reactions that occur during stressful situations. Not to be confused with anxiety or panic attacks, the response is a survival-mechanism that’s triggered through hormonal changes or psychological responses. This helps an individual determine the best course of action (fight or flight) in situations that require immediate action. The level of the threat posed determines the level of response given, for example, a traffic jam will give rise to a milder level of stress response in comparison to experiencing a death in the family.
So what is a Positive Stress Response?
Positive stress response is a normal and essential part of healthy development, characterized by brief increases in heart rate and mild elevations in hormone levels. Some situations that might trigger a positive response are the first day with a new caregiver or receiving an injected immunization.
What are the different types of stress?
There are 3 mainly prevalent types of stress that most commonly occur within our daily lives. These 3 types of stress are positive, tolerable, and toxic stress, they vary in effect both mentally and physically depending on the severity of the situation encountered or the current mental state of the individual experiencing it.
- Positive Stress Response: Positive stress (aka Eustress), is the short-term body/mind’s response to taxing situations that are within one’s capabilities. Some of the responses attributed to this occurrence are (but not limited to):- increased motivation, excitement, improved performance, and improved focus. Some of the physical responses include:- momentary increases in heart-rate elevation and modestly elevated hormone levels.
- Tolerable Stress Response: Tolerable stress, is a type-related form of stress that occurs when experiencing adversarial or threatening situations. This form of stress (although at a reduced rate) may have longer-lasting damaging mental/physical effects. This may stigmatize an individual by creating long-term repercussions to health and capability to learn in children, young adults, and adults as well.
- Toxic Stress Response: Toxic stress is the most volatile state that threatens to permanently damage an individual’s psyche. Toxic stress may result from addiction/substance abuse, prolonged physical or mental abuse, and mental health to name a few. This level of stress produces extended periods of frequent and vigorous activation of the body’s stress response system.
So why should we categorize stress response?
In order to lead a productive life while combating or accepting stressful situations, it’s crucial to not only understand the outcomes but the causes of stress as well. Whether in adolescence or adulthood, it is essential to identify the different types of stress and responses in order to successfully navigate stressful situations. By categorizing stress responses it’s easier to identify what course of action to pursue for present and future situations.
How can we cope with stress and the responses?
There are many methods that can be used to effectively deal with stress response. Among these options are physical activities such as yoga, tai chi, weight lifting, or running. Less physically demanding options are SIT, meditation, seeing a trained psychologist, or simply sharing one’s problems with those closest to you. There is no one perfect solution for everyone because as individuals the intricacies of our lives and thought processes require methods that are tailored to us specifically. Attempting various methods, though tedious, will aid in finding the right solution.
Positive stress response in adolescents
In the early stages of human development, children learn to identify positive stress through the aid of their parents. A nurturing and responsive adult facilitates a child’s return to baseline levels of stress by offering a soothing protective presence. For example, offering words of encouragement during a sports event or picking up a fallen child. By creating a supportive base for children a parent ensures their continued mental growth into their adult years. Whereas neglect towards offering reassurance and empathy towards a developing mind may stunt or damage the child. Regardless of the situation, it is incumbent for the parent to provide a supportive presence to aid in the mental growth.
Positive stress response in adults
Positive stress in adults is a motivational response that occurs in situations that create excitement. The excitement may be produced in a myriad of ways not limited to achieving a personal or work-related goal. Even the prospect or crystallization of a path that can lead to self-fulfillment can trigger a release of increased levels of eustress. Some examples of positive stress-inducing responses are the first date, receiving a promotion, or completing an assignment on time. The positive response produced depends on the individual and therefore copying a template may not produce the same result.
The effects of stress can negatively or positively impact not only current mental health but the future mental state as well. It is imperative that as a society, individuals seek to gain the knowledge to differentiate between different types of stress. As well as identification, individuals must research and seek advice on the best possible methods to alleviate the stress responses. Positive stress is meant to enable growth and development in order to achieve goals that are within reach but require motivation. Without the proper education on how to embrace a positive stress response, it’s easy to misinterpret its usefulness. Pushing beyond the realms of preconceived capabilities is required to achieve personal goals. Seeking professional help in dealing with stress responses is vital in reducing its efficacy.