“I’m so stressed!” “This is so stressful!” “I don’t know how to cope with all this!”
How many times a day or week do you find yourself saying or thinking statements like these?
Stress comes in many forms, and when you’re hitting those final school years, it can quickly feel like stress is going to overwhelm you.
Stress is often connected to bad feelings – but what if we told you that stress could actually be a force for GOOD in your life?
Stress As a Superpower
Okay, so there’s a fair bit of science and psychology behind this, and we don’t want to overwhelm you, but YES – stress can be a secret superpower when you know how to tell the difference between good stress and bad stress.
Good stress is known as Eustress. Bad stress is known as Distress:
- Eustress: This is the kind of stress we feel when an emotionally charged event causes us to feel excited and satisfied or fills us with positive anticipation. We often don’t see this as ‘stress’ because it’s associated with positive outcomes.
- Distress: The opposite of eustress is the stress that can make us feel anxious, worried, and withdrawn and causes us to experience low moods. This is associated with events that we would rather avoid, that can be challenging or confrontational.
When we’re in a state of eustress, we are more open to learning which means we’re more likely to repeat the behaviours that create the positive experience and emotions as part of the ‘stressful’ experience.
Psychologists have found that one of the critical deciders of whether we experience an event as causing eustress or distress is our perception of it. There are two parts to this:
- Whether we view the event as stressful in the first place. For example, if you love meeting new people, a party won’t feel stressful, but if you have social anxiety, a party can feel very stressful!
- Whether we feel we have any control over the situation and the amount of stress it can create.
So, what happens when we take this information and apply it to our perceptions of potentially stressful events?
Good Stress vs. Bad Stress
The good news is that we tend to have much more control over how much distress an event creates in our lives than we realise.
Let’s look at a super common distress-inducing event for many young people: exams.
You could perceive having to take exams as causing eustress or distress depending on how you approach the situation:
|Exams = Eustress||Exams = Distress|
|● You find out the exact time and date of your exam and create a study plan to help you prepare in the lead-up to it.
● You take regular notes in class and stay up to date with readings and homework to be ready for the exam.
● You research past exam questions and add practice tests into your study plan to help you manage your time.
● You seek feedback and support from your teacher with areas you’re struggling with.
● You openly talk with friends about how you’re preparing and share the load of how exams can feel stressful.
● You plan to reward yourself with your favourite meal and those new sneakers you’ve been eyeing up when you pass your exam.
● You pass your exam! And now you get a delicious meal and a new pair of kicks. Win. You’re motivated to stick to this plan next time!
|● You know when your exam is, but it’s so far in the future that you decide not to worry about it right now.
● A month before the exam, your teacher reminds you that you need to prepare, but you haven’t taken good enough notes and are unsure where to start.
● Instead of seeking help, you avoid thinking about things and binge Netflix – it’ll be fine, right?
● You’re so worried about how you’ll catch up that you can’t even think about the possibility of passing the exam and how you’ll reward yourself.
● You spend the last few days before your exam cramming as much as possible.
● You sit the exam and rush through it because you want the whole thing to be over.
● You feel low because you’re sure you’ve failed and will have to resit. You’re unmotivated by the whole experience.
As you can probably tell, BOTH of these scenarios are within your control – YOU are the deciding factor in how you approach the situation and the feelings of stress it might cause.
So while you might not have control over whether or not you need to sit exams as part of your educational achievements, you can control whether you decide to let them cause you eustress or distress.
How many stressful experiences can you think of where this same idea could be applied?
Positive Stress Coping Strategies
When faced with a stressful situation, you also have choices over how you handle it.
As you might guess – some of these are positive and constructive, and others might feel good momentarily but won’t help you handle stress long-term.
Coping strategies that might not support you long-term include avoidant activities like:
- Ignoring the problem or situation.
- Shutting yourself away from friends or family.
- Excessive focus on hobbies (which could mean bingeing on Netflix, playing video games all night, endless scrolling on social media, overeating etc.).
- Ignoring your feelings and emotions with an ‘it doesn’t matter’
We have ALL been guilty of one or two of the above at some point (totally putting our hands up to bingeing Netflix and eating ALL of the Ben&Jerry’s to avoid deadlines!), and it’s not that they’re ‘bad’ if you feel like you just need a break and some time to yourself.
The important thing is not to let them take over and allow stress to build as a result of only doing things like these.
Positive coping strategies can look different to everyone but include things such as:
- Making proactive plans to tackle the stressful situation and sticking to them.
- Speaking with friends, family or teachers about how you’re feeling and getting support to overcome stressful situations.
- Adding practices such as gratitude, mindfulness or journaling to your day to help focus and relieve stress.
- Eating healthy, getting some exercise, and taking social media breaks to support overall mind-body health.
Hone in On Your Superpower
Now you know the difference; you’ve got a big responsibility.
And with big responsibility comes great power – that’s how the saying goes, right?!
But seriously, the next time you start to see a situation as stressful, stop and think; how can I turn this distress into eustress, and if I can’t, what are the best coping strategies for me in this moment to work through this challenge and minimise the distress created?
We reckon that’s a pretty good superpower to have in your back pocket!