Good and Bad Stress

Good and Bad Stress

Understanding Stress: The Good and the Bad

Kellie O’Dowd, our Development Manager, explores the benefits and drawbacks of stress or mental strains and its impact on our relationships.

The Benefits of Positive Stress

Stress often gets a bad reputation, but research shows that both positive and negative mental strain can significantly influence our lives. Under the right circumstances, it can be a motivating force. So, how do we differentiate between good stress (discomfort that fosters growth) and bad stress (stress about stress)?

Generally, positive emotional strain is short-term and encourages achievement. In these situations, you tend to feel some control over the outcome, making the pressure motivating. Distress, however, can lead to feelings of helplessness and overwhelm.

The Reality of Stressors

Ideally, we could eliminate unhelpful stressors, but this isn’t realistic. Doing so might lead to a lack of careers, homes, or friendships, ultimately affecting well-being.

Stress and Brain Function

Brief periods of mental strain can enhance learning and brain function. This short-term strain activates our natural fight-or-flight response without lingering long enough to cause harm. Interestingly, even excitement can trigger stress!

Navigating Deadlines

For example, a deadline can create a helpful pressure that helps you focus and complete a project, provided there’s adequate time to relax afterward. However, feeling constantly rushed can lead to exhaustion, diminishing performance and resulting in a negative emotional burden.

The Risks of Chronic Distress

Chronic distress can disrupt your immune, reproductive, excretory, and digestive systems. Potential issues include heart disease, irritability, memory loss, depression, and weight gain.

Accepting What You Cannot Change

Whether this mental strain originates from beneficial or harmful sources, persistent stress can lead to long-term suffering.

Accept what you cannot change (like traffic) and focus on what you can control. Worrying and shallow breathing won’t help. Instead, turn on your favourite music and sing along while you wait, or inform others of your delay.

Breathing Techniques for Relief

When stressed, we often forget to breathe deeply. Try square breathing

  1. Inhale for 4 seconds
  2. Hold for 4 seconds
  3. Exhale for 4 seconds
  4. Hold for 4 seconds

Repeat as necessary


Isolating Specific Stressors

Instead of giving yourself the unclear diagnosis of “stress,” see if you can be more specific. Try out statements that start like “I’m noticing that I’m disappointed about…” or “I’m realising that I feel fearful of…”. or “I am feeling resentful about…….”.

This gives you the opportunity to isolate the emotions that are causing you mental pressures, like nervousness, responsibility, or fear of failure. Then you can move forward from a place of recognition, rather than remaining stuck and anxious.

Incorporating Mindfulness Practices

Begin a daily meditation practice or gratitude practice. Stressful situations will roll off your back more often, and if something does get to you, the effects won’t last as long. These practices are also essential for sustaining healthy relationships.

The Power of Movement

Physical activity helps alleviate tension. Engage in yoga, take a nature walk, or enjoy a relaxing bath—whatever makes you feel revitalized will help release built-up tension.

There’s no way to avoid stress entirely, but you can use these tips to manage it in ways that benefit you!

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