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Stress: the good, the bad and the ugly

This is a continuation of a series for helping South Africans in the 4th Industrial revolution. The previous post focuses on how to identify the true nature of stressors that the 4thIR will likely bring more of. I also introduced a method to evaluate and become aware of the sources of stress. In this post I want to explore what stress is and what types exist to help us handle it better.

What is stress?

Firstly, what is stress? Although obvious when you experience it, it can be vague, and difficult to define. According to the American Institute of Stress, stress is “…any type of change that causes physical, emotional, or psychological strain. Stress is your body’s response to anything that requires attention or action.” [1] In that sense, stress has a non-specific elicitation, yet has a specific reaction. The strain can be physiological or psychological. That being said, not all stress was created equal.

Nustress, distress and eustress

Some types of stress are bad for you, while others can be beneficial. There are three types of stress: nustress, distress and eustress.[2] Nustress is the neutral stress that accommodates everyday life activities such as breathing, sleeping and walking. That’s fine, everyone experiences the flow of daily life. The other two types of stress are more divisive. Eustress is perceived as being favourable or energising, while distress is stress that is perceived as being overwhelming.[3]

You go into a state of distress when you feel as if you can’t cope with the stressor. Distress has a lot of bad physical and mental health consequences.[4][5] In the short-term, the everyday stressors of life can start feeling overwhelming and switch over to episodic acute stress. In the long-term, stressors heap up in the form of chronic stress. Chronic stress can be caused by work overload, bad coping strategies and unresolved trauma (acute stress episodes that are not dealt with.) Acute stress and chronic stress are especially bad for you. Chronic stress has been linked to a host of poor-health outcomes and can even shrink your brain[6]

In general, we want to avoid the bad and ugly, and indulge in more of the good, the eustress. How can we do that? The answer is rarely simple or easy, and takes creativity on your part. A good place to start is to categorise your stressors to get a clearer picture of your situation. Make a list of your stressors and mark them as either eustress or distress. Ask yourself how you can get from distress to eustress. Be open and curious about it. Is there anyone you can contact that could help you to get to eustress? Are there any opportunities for you to grow?

I fully expect that chronic stress and the pressures of a digitalised work-environment will grow in the 4th IR. With that being said, it is a category of stress that needs determination and intervention to break from. Now that we’ve shortly explored camouflaged stress and categorised it, it’s coping time. Stay tuned!

If you would like to find out more, or need help dealing with stressors, contact me. I’ve also got a few handy tools to help you.


[1] https://www.stress.org/what-is-stress-blog, retrieved 1 Sept 2020 [2] Seaward, B.L. (2006). Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Wellbeing. 5th Edition. London: Jones and Bartlett Publishers. [3] Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984).Stress, appraisal and coping. New York, NY: Springer. [4] Matthews, G. (2016). Distress. In Stress: Concepts, cognition, emotion, and behavior (pp. 219-226). Academic Press. [5] Marin, M. F., Lord, C., Andrews, J., Juster, R. P., Sindi, S., Arsenault-Lapierre, G., ... & Lupien, S. J. (2011). Chronic stress, cognitive functioning and mental health. Neurobiology of learning and memory, 96(4), 583-595. [6] Hill, M. N., Hellemans, K. G., Verma, P., Gorzalka, B. B., & Weinberg, J. (2012). Neurobiology of chronic mild stress: parallels to major depression. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 36(9), 2085-2117.


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