Mental health: What is stress?

Stress affects us all. There’s no escaping stress and chances are you have experienced some sort of stress before in your life. Did you know that there are actually two types of stress? You’ve probably been a victim of both kinds and you didn’t even know it! There’s eustress and then there’s distress.

Eustress is the good kind of stress: the stress of going on a first date, or the stress you experienced when you were first applying to college. This is the kind of stress that increases your motivation to succeed.

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Stress can be good and bad.
Photo by Sydney Crawson.

Distress, on the other hand, is bad. This is the kind of stress you feel when something wrong happens. For example, failing a test or knowing you might not be able to pass a class wears you down and can get you in trouble.

Stress is not generally a bad thing. In fact, stress helps us get motivated to change our situation or to get us to our end goal. Our biology is set up for stress and it helps us more than it hurts us. There are times, however, when stress can be too much. Prolonged stress can hurt us mentally and physically.

When our mind and body are in a constant state of stress, that stress displays itself in different ways. Mentally you’ll find yourself anxious and constantly worrying; you might have trouble concentrating as a result. You might also find that you are more emotional, more irritable, depressed or overwhelmed.

Your body’s immune system shuts down to prepare for “fight or flight,” so you might get sick more often. You can also feel the stress form in your body, so you might even get aches and your heart might beat more. As a result of the physical symptoms, you might eat more, not sleep enough or begin using substances to cope with that stress.

Stress is inevitable, but you can control it by taking care of your mind and body in order to keep yourself from experiencing stress overload. The first thing you can do is to cope with your stress in a healthy way. This means not using drugs, alcohol, food or anything else to numb the stress. You should eat healthy, take care of yourself physically by exercising, treat yourself to a dinner, go to the movies, surround yourself with positive people and cut out extraneous activities to lighten your stress load. Stress will happen, but now you have the tools to combat it. Good luck!