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Turning negative stress into positive stress

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You have heard stress can be a good thing and that is true. In everyday language, we use the word ‘stress’ particularly to refer to negative stress. But stress is not necessarily bad. It can even be helpful and without stress mankind would never have been where it is today. But what is the difference between negative stress and positive stress? And how do you turn negative stress into positive stress? Don’t stress, we will tell you. 

How do we know whether stress is positive or negative? 

This is what stress is in one paragraph

First, let’s start with what stress is. Stress is a physical response to external happenings. All different kinds of things in your body suddenly change (stress hormones, less energy goes to body functions you don’t need in that moment, and the emotional part of your brain is in lead) so that you are ready for the action. That external thing that triggers stress could be anything. What exactly activates the stress response of your body totally depends on you and your perception. What some (unconsciously) perceive as a big threat or annoyance, others even don’t notice.    

Eustress and distress

Did you know another word for positive stress is eustress? And another way to refer to negative stress is distress? 

How interesting a lot of us in daily life are seeking eustress (feelings of euphoria, excitement and adrenaline) and just tend to hate distress. They are both stress. Quite extreme don’t you think.   

Interested to read more about our culture of seeking and really appreciating positive high-intensity emotions? There is another way to experience positive emotions, that is more balanced and helps us in the end to lead more happy lives.

Is my stress negative? 

So, now back to the question; “when is my stress negative?” How do we know and what factors determine the answer to this question?

On the one hand it is about how you experience the state and period of stress. And whether 

you manage to use the increased state of alertness positively. On the other hand, we also look at what it does to your body and whether there are any negative effects.

Chronic, and long lasting, stress is in any case negative. Purely because it is mentally and physically harmful. 

For the rest, there is quite a lot of room in the conception of stress, and whether it is pleasant or unpleasant for you, positive or negative or somewhere in between. You can do all sorts of things to turn unpleasant stress into a much more positive experience. 


Coping with stress – the complete Guide

> Visit the Coping with Stress the smart way – Guide

Believe it or not but we are stress passionate. Stress is a big part of most of our lives, and it makes such a difference to experience less negative stress. And the good news is that there is a LOT of room to make improvements. Easy adjustments and long term effect. Read our guide and learn how to cope with stress.


On a scale from negative to positive stress 

Below you will find 5 variables that together determine whether your physical stress mode is positive or negative stress for you. These 5 points can help you to ‘play’ with your stress a bit and transform negative stress into positive stress. Or at least to experience your stress in a more positive way, or to make better use of it. Because perception and thoughts play an important role in stress. Of which you are the manager.

Negative or positive stress checklist – test your stress 

1) Do you experience the stress sensations as pleasant or not?  

Yes 

No

Yes = for example: I’m going to a performance by my favorite artist and I’ve been hyper all day! Delightful! 

NO = for example: I’m going to a performance by my favorite artist tonight and I’ve been breathing high and feeling rushed all day; an unpleasant feeling. 

2) Do you perceive the state of physical excitement and stress as desirable or not? 

Yes 

No

Yes = e.g. I have a deadline tomorrow, and I am working my ass off right now, with little sleep, to deliver good results on time. Thank you adrenaline. And I know a period of short physical stress doesn’t harm me in any way.  

No = e.g. I have a deadline tomorrow, and I have to arrange everything, and I can’t relax or think clearly. I’ll never get my work done in a pleasant way.   

3) Do you have a positive view of the event that leads to the bodily reaction? 

Yes 

No

Yes = e.g. I am going to move in two weeks and I can’t wait, I am so looking forward to it! I feel very energetic and elated. A lot comes out of my hands. 

No = e.g.: I’m going to move in two weeks and I always find moving so stressful. I wish it would be over. I just can’t relax, and I feel restless.  

4) Can you positively use the physical reactions (more focus, more adrenaline, a higher action radius and acceleration speed) for a goal? 

Yes 

No

Yes = e.g.: I have an important game to play (presentation to make) and I can positively use all the adrenaline and hormones to play a really good game (/ presentation to make). 

No = e.g.: I have received a negative evaluation and I find that very annoying. I feel nervous and threatened. But of course there is absolutely nothing I can do now, the assessment is what it is and I have to deal with it. The fight or flight mode is of no use right now.    

5) After a temporary mode of stress, does your body go back to resting mode? 

Yes

No

Yes = this is highly desirable and as the body’s biology ideally intended

No = bringing more relaxation and calm to your body should be a big priority. After a period of increased stress, winding down (long enough) is essential. This is by definition negative stress, even if the other variables would score positively. 

Your positive & negative stress Test Score

  • 5 times ‘yes’: this is surely positive stress. There is almost nothing you can do to make your stress experience even more positive. Well done!
  • 3-4 times ‘yes’: Your stress is hopefully / probably not too much of a burden. The test will show you where there is still room to use the physical response even more optimally and comfortably. Did you answer ‘yes’ to the last question #5? Make sure you do, it is the most important factor (on a scale from negative to positive stress) of all! 
  • 0-2 times ‘yes’: there is quite some room to make your stress a more positive and useful experience. You can try to observe (and adjust) the way you think about the event, the way you perceive the bodily sensations, and make a connection between this state of mind & body and the performance that is expected. You can use this short test as inspiration to see where your influence is possible. Use the questions in the test to understand what knobs you can turn to make your stress more positive.  For sure: make sure you rest enough after a period of tension and stress.  

Negative stress circle * 

* this paragraph only for advanced practitioners or for those who do not shy away from depth and long term improvements 

There are certain physical sensations associated with stress: 

  • Your heart rate goes up
  • You breathe faster
  • Your senses are open
  • Your heart is pumping
  • The blood supply is high
  • There is tension on the muscles
  • Hormones create focus, action and high energy
  • etc. 

Your thoughts about these sensations determine a lot. 

Do you think positively about these sensations, welcoming them or not resisting them? Are you able to enjoy this focus mode? Then you will experience a more positive overall course of the period of heightened tension.  

Do you have a negative opinion of these sensations and are you labeling them as undesirable? Then there is a good chance that they are feeding negative thoughts, that you are not able to use the heightened tension positively but “fight” it. And all in all will have a more negative experience at the period of heightened tension. 

Notice – and embrace – what is anyway or push away what you don’t want? At The Perfect Strugglers, we do know which is preferable. The focus mode – in response to a stressor – is there anyway. Our advice: see it, move with it and dive in. On first reading this you might think: “they are crazy”. With some more reading on our website, you will see the penny drop and start to benefit from this approach in all areas of your life.   

In short about negative and positive stress

So stress can be positive, experienced as positive or used positively. Even though we often don’t use the word stress then. 

Positive stress or negative stress; either way it is important that after a period of tension and stress your body goes into rest. The challenge is over, your body can now relax. That means more loose muscles, a lower heart rate and slower breathing. If stress persists for a long time, stress can be mentally and physically damaging.

Choose to make a positive stress experience out of it

In the article I mentioned the variables that have the power to turn short-term stress into negative stress. But equally have the power to turn short-term stress into positive stress and a positive experience. The choice is yours!

And of course, I know this is all easier said than done. But I just would like to let you know, it is possible to become friends with stress. Stress can be your welcome ally when you want to put your best foot forward.

Much of the stress experience is in your control, after some training and interest in personal growth. Can you imagine how nice that is; a more pleasant relationship with stress for the rest of your life?  

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