Stress is Only Bad If It’s Bad: Five Instances When Stress Is Good for You

“Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.” Hans Selye, Austrian-Canadian endocrinologist.

Stress gets a bad rap it doesn’t always deserve.

Like millions of us, you’re probably wary of any stress, especially when trying to juggle a reasonable work/life balance. But stress doesn’t get you in the end: what does is strain, the unrelieved result of too much negative stress. According to mental health researchers, stress isn’t always bad for you. They divide it into good and bad categories: eustress and distress, respectively. And you can even convert distress into eustress sometimes.

Let’s see how stress can sometimes help you.

1. When it triggers positive action. Low levels of stress—or even brief high levels of stress—can spur you into bursts of activity, pushing you to peak performance and motivating you to reach your goals. An example: When he first began his career, a colleague who joined his company in July buckled down and worked extra hard, wowing his managers. As a result, he got an unexpected Christmas bonus that equaled or exceeded those of his colleagues, despite his relatively brief tenure.

2. When it triggers a protective reflex. Sudden stress can cause a spike in blood pressure and heart-rate, as well as reflexive movement away from a perceived threat. Take the bicycle messenger who seemed to levitate off his bike when a driver made an illegal turn onto a one-way street, crushing the bike under his car—while the rider emerged shaken but unscathed. True story, observed by an acquaintance, a former archaeologist. He has similar tales of escaping striking snakes before going all Cuisinart on them with his shovel. While you may not find yourself faced with such dangerous situations in the workplace very often, this form of stress can save you from harm if it happens.

3. When it makes you reframe challenges as opportunities. In business circles, you hear repeatedly about the need to turn negative thinking around, to see problems or change as opportunities to shine and, in some cases, to make breakthroughs exceeding anything you previously hoped for. When I first started my career, I worked for TRW—and on my first field assignment, my colleagues treated me shabbily for doing my job right. This contributed to my decision to strike out on my own as a speaker and productivity expert—and look at me now, at the top of my game and recognized by my peers as one of the best in my field! TRW, meanwhile, no longer exists.

4. When it helps you expand your comfort zone. Speaking of TRW, the assignment that soured me on them occurred when they transferred to me to Detroit, to make safety recommendations for a plastics extrusion and steel-stamping factory. As a newly-minted MBA fresh from six months at corporate HQ, this was a whole different world. Travel and moving can prove stressful, though often in a positive way; and while the experience with the “good old boy” network at TRW was unpleasant, it was also instructive. In the end, it helped me decide working for Laura was my best choice.

5. When crises force you to act and overcome. In a pair of speeches in 1959 and 1960, John F. Kennedy famously claimed, “In the Chinese language, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity.” While that’s not actually true, it’s one of those things that feels like it ought to be, especially to productivity experts and optimistic businesspeople. So in a way the trope has a truth of its own, offering a lesson to buoy your spirits when you feel overwhelmed.

Feel-Good Stress

Have you ever thought about the fact that exercise represents a type of whole-body stress? When you exercise, you’re not only raising your heart-rate and BP, adrenaline peaks and hormones flow. The act of building muscle mass requires you to actually break apart muscle fibers, so they can heal larger, and temporarily poison your muscles with lactic acid! Is it any wonder it hurts? But if you don’t overdo it, it’s good stress in the end. And haven’t you sometimes looked forward to some situations you knew would be stressful, like giving birth, starting a new job, or taking an active vacation?

Eustress is feel-good stress. It motivates you, it’s exciting, you can easily cope with it, it’s short-term, and it improves your performance. So fill your cup with eustress while avoiding its evil twin as much as possible… and your productivity cup will runneth over.


P.S. This post is all about positive stress, but if you’re experiencing an overload of negative stress, it might be because you have too much on your plate! I have an entirely free 1-hour webinar you can check out to help you better prioritize and organize to get things done! Video: When There’s Too Much to Do Webinar

© 2017 Laura Stack.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on productivity and performance. Funny, engaging, and full of real life strategies that work, Laura will change mindsets and attitudes so your people can maximize productivity, strengthen performance, and get the job done right. Her presentations at corporate events, sales kick-off meetings, and association conferences help audiences improve output, increase speed in execution, and save time in the office. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401, email, or CONTACT US.

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“Laura Stack’s session with a group of our seasoned operations managers was eye-opening. We all learned new ways to be more productive with the tools we already have. I’ve never seen each of our seasoned, experienced operations managers so engaged in a session. Many of our senior and mid-level leaders were wowed by what they learned and have already begun using the new techniques with their teams.”
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  1. This is an excellent article. It makes you think of stress in a different light.