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The battle of good versus evil: balancing eustress and distress

Feeling stressed out? That's great! Well, at least it can be.

The fact is that stress is not always a negative thing. Positive stress, or eustress, can help you stay motivated while improving your performance.

Sure, eustressors like landing a new job, moving or getting married will most likely leave you with the "I have a rock in the pit of my gut" feeling of anxiety (which shouldn't be confused with the "I wish I hadn't eaten that week-old pizza this morning" feeling). However, this fear of the impending unknown outcome is just the result of your body reverting to battle mode — think "fight or flight" response. As soon as the event passes, the anxiety will fade and in the end, you'll be better for it.

So, when good stress comes your way, fight the compulsion to freak out and instead, use it to your advantage. Say you have a big game coming up — use your nerves for the power of good. The chemical changes you're experiencing will get your blood pumping, which means you'll jump higher, run faster and endure longer. *Note: this generally does not apply if your upcoming "big game" involves a fantasy league of some sort, but nice try.

But, while eustress invigorates, bad stress, or distress can be debilitating. Negative stressors such as losing your job, being seriously injured or grieving a death can leave you hopeless if they're not dealt with correctly. You may not see them coming, but taking control before the situation further spirals out of control can save you from the long-term physical and emotional effects that distress can cause.

The first step is to take control — but that's easier said than done. Just remember that it's a cop-out to deal with distress using unproductive coping strategies. Implementing diversion techniques such as smoking, drinking or withdrawing from your social circle in favor of a marathon of cliché sitcoms is only going to compound the problem. So, quit double-fisting the rum and remote and listen up:

  • Just say no. If you're already stressed to the max, don't add more to your plate.
  • Do something … anything. If you're dealing with a stressor, like job loss, that you can improve by taking action (applying for new jobs), stop wallowing and get going.
  • Adjust. Try looking at the problem from an alternative perspective by focusing on the positives. Again, it's easier said than done, but step back and you might find you're blowing the situation out of proportion.
  • Accept it. If you're dealing with something you can no longer change, such as a divorce, work to move on rather than dwelling.
  • Take care of you. Make sure you're eating right, sleeping well, exercising and, of course, avoiding the alcohol and cigarettes.
  • Relax. Doing something you enjoy will make you feel less overwhelmed. Think Yoga, preferably with some funny-looking stretchy pants — which leads me to the final tip...
  • Laugh. The physical act of laughing can help your body fight the mal-effects of negative stress. So, I guess a couple cliché sitcoms wouldn't hurt — as long as you actually get a laugh out of them.

Overall, the key is balance. Achieve the right amount of eustress to keep you fresh and on your toes, while learning to effectively cope with the distress that might blindside you along the way.

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