If I told you I was “stressed out,” you’d automatically assume that was a bad thing, right? Although we tend to think of stress as a negative circumstance, it can actually be a good thing under the right conditions. Stress can help you perform better, grow stronger and feel more motivated – as long as you’re careful to differentiate between the good and the bad.
Good Stress vs Bad Stress
As a general rule, “good” stress tends to occur in short-term bursts of motivation that challenge you to achieve more expansive goals. When you’re able to control the outcome of these situations, good stress can help you accomplish your goals, whether you’re facing a tight deadline at work, getting ready for a test or preparing for a speech. Even if your stressors are things you’re excited about, you may still experience temporary periods of acute stress that help propel you forward and enable you to overcome obstacles.
We call this good stress, “eustress,” from the Latin prefix “eu-” meaning “good” or “beneficial.” Interestingly, these short periods of stress may help improve brain function and learning , as they trigger the “fight or flight” response ingrained in all humans that allows us to learn, grow and achieve more quickly. Aside from helping you accomplish your goals, this type of stress isn’t associated with the type of damage that long-term periods of negative stress can do.
As noted by Berkeley researchers:
“You always think about stress as a really bad thing, but it’s not,” said Daniela Kaufer, associate professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley. “Some amounts of stress are good to push you just to the level of optimal alertness, behavioral and cognitive performance.”
In studies on rats, they found that significant, but brief stressful events caused stem cells in their brains to proliferate into new nerve cells that, when mature two weeks later, improved the rats’ mental performance. 
At the same time, any form of chronic stress would be considered unhealthy and to be avoided. What is the difference exactly? Keep reading!
Bad Stress Hinders Progress and Could Cause Health Issues
In the description above, rushing to meet a deadline was used as an example of a short-term stressor that could provoke the mind and body to positive action. But what happens if, after you meet one deadline, you realize you’ve got ten more looming ahead of you? Instead of having time to rest and recover from your eustress, your stress levels become more and more negative. In this way, good stress transforms into the kind of bad stress that can leave you feeling exhausted and cause your performance to suffer.
One of the reasons chronic stress is so damaging is that, when you trigger the “fight or flight” mode referenced earlier, your body undergoes a host of physiological changes  in your immune, reproductive, excretory and digestive systems that are designed to help you respond to short-term stress. If you never catch a break, the demands of remaining in this constantly-threatened state cause your health to suffer, potentially leading to heart disease, depression, weight gain, and a number of other conditions. Chronic stress is depleting in virtually every sense, and it’s super important that we figure out what to do about it!
How to Protect Yourself from Bad Stress
It’d be easy for me to say that you can avoid these negative effects by simply getting rid of the bad stress in your life, but that wouldn’t be realistic. No matter how much you try to keep your stress levels in check, we all experience negative stress from time to time. We live in a very full, busy and fast-paced world.
That said, while some things are unavoidable – like illness and death – there are ways you can manage your stress levels and transform your negative experiences into more positive ones. Consider the following tips on how to rebuild your energy and find peace within the challenges of day-to-day life:
- Accept that you can’t control everything. If you’re stuck in traffic, no amount of staring at the light will make it turn green – so why worry about it? Learning to go with the flow in this situation (and in other negative scenarios you encounter) will go a long way towards reducing stress in your life. Try not to get sucked into getting worked up about every day stresses, AS much. Sure, we all know it’s horribly annoying to be stuck behind the garbage truck going at a snail’s pace, or finding that there is only one security machine working at the airport, but you know what I do? I put on my headphones and listen to some chill music, and even try to have a little laugh to myself, to remind myself not to take things/life too seriously :).
- Take a deep breath. When we’re stressed, we tend to take quick, shallow breaths, not the deep breaths that nurture us. As soon as you feel stress start to creep in, consciously take five slow, deep breaths to release your tension. You can always turn to the internal rhythm of your breath, which is always there to help ground you, relax you. Simply by spending a few minutes watching your breath flowing in and out, which you can do anywhere, is therapeutic. You can practice this at your desk, in line or even while driving.
- Get outside your head. According to research published in the American Journal of Public Health, people who made a conscious effort to focus on others after experiencing stressful events had a lower risk of stress-related mortality than those who didn’t. Make a home-cooked meal for a loved one. Do some local volunteer work. Call up an elderly relative and ask them about their day! Whatever it is, giving love to others is a sure way to allow more love to flow into your heart, which will help crowd out fear and stress.
- Meditate daily. I try to begin and end each day with meditation, as it helps set the tone for my day and allows me to move through each day with authenticity. Try it yourself, and watch as stressful situations roll right off your back! I have a lot of other blogs and resources to help you get started with your meditation practice, so please check them out. I’ve been incorporating it so much into the information I put out, including in my upcoming new book baby :), The Beauty Detox Power, because I truly believe that meditation is like a form of nourishment, just as the food you eat.
These techniques alone won’t eliminate every stressor from your life (and really, you don’t want them to), but they will help you face your daily challenges with beauty and grace, and avoid the chronic, lingering stress that we DO want to avoid. Make them a part of your daily routine and enjoy all the benefits they have to offer your mind, body and spirit.
What techniques do you use to cope with stress? Share your suggestions in the comments below!