Dealing with Stress: The Good and The Bad

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July 1, 2011

What do taxes, driving in rush hour traffic, and looming deadlines all have in common? For most of us, these can be stress triggers. Whether you’re fretting about paying a bill or a falling stock, this type of negative stress, also called distress, can be debilitating to your health and overall well being.

In stressful situations, such as being assigned a last-minute project with an impossible deadline, our bodies undergo a three-stage process, beginning with an initial alarm or reaction state. The endocrine system, which helps regulate hormones, prepares for a sudden fight or flight response. In the second stage, your body will attempt to return to a state of balance as you plunk back into your chair, ready to work long into the night.

The last stage is exhaustion. Along with your unexpected workload, let’s say you’re also responsible for picking up the kids from soccer practice, preparing dinner, and picking up prescriptions at the drug store. The exhaustion you feel after a stressful day may make it difficult for you to perform at your best. Prolonged and frequent exposure to these kinds of stressors often results in a general fatigue.

However, not all stress is negative. Positive stress, also known as eustress, contributes to interest and excitement and preserves attention in your life. You might feel it during thrilling activities like riding a roller coaster or finally finishing a major project at home. There would be much less enjoyment in our work and leisure activities without positive stress.

Controlled breathing or meditation can help regulate the alarm reaction state, which makes it easier for our bodies to manage. If your distress stems primarily from the workplace, check out your employee assistance, counseling or wellness programs. If your workplace does not have any of these services, talk to a human resources representative or a close friend. Your health may depend on it.