How can you THRIVE under stress? Good stress versus distress

Stress is not always a bad thing. Stress is simply the body's response to changes that create demands. There is a difference between Eustress (positive stress), and Distress (negative stress). In daily life, we often use the term "stress" to describe negative situations. This leads many people to believe that all stress is bad for you, which is not true.

Here are some characteristics and examples of Eustress and Distress. 

Stress/Eustress

  • Motivates, energizes
  • Is short-term
  • Feels exciting
  • Improves performance
  • Is perceived as within our coping abilities
  • Usually does not lead to mental or physical problems

Distress

  • Causes anxiety or concern
  • Can be short- or long-term
  • Feels unpleasant
  • Decreases performance
  • Is perceived as outside of our coping abilities
  • Can lead to mental and physical problems

 

Positive stressors may include:

  • Receiving a promotion or raise at work
  • Starting a new job
  • Taking a vacation
  • Buying a home
  • Having a child
  • Marriage
  • Moving
  • Retiring
  • Taking educational classes or learning a new hobby

Negative stressors may include:

  • Death of a spouse or a family member
  • Hospitalization (oneself or a family member)
  • Injury or illness (oneself or a family member)
  • Divorce or separation from a spouse or committed relationship partner
  • Conflict in interpersonal relationships
  • Losing contact with loved ones
  • Being abused or neglected
  • Bankruptcy or other financial problems
  • Children's problems at school
  • Unemployment
  • Sleep problems
  • Legal problems

If you are a student, you will face academic stressors in addition to some of the general stressors mentioned above. Some of the academic stressors are:

  • Attending classes
  • Completing the readings
  • Preparing for exams
  • Writing papers
  • Managing projects
  • Dealing with difficult classmates, roommates, faculty or staff

In addition to the external stressors mentioned above, there are some other internal sources of distress such as:

  • Fears
  • Repetitive, often negative thought patterns
  • Worrying about future events
  • Unrealistic, perfectionist expectations

Is your stress concerning? If you are experiencing any of the following emotions on a regular basis, you may be experiencing distress:

Academic indicators of distress:

  • Increased absence from class or studio
  • Lack of participation
  • Missed assignments, exams, or appointments
  • Continual seeking of extensions
  • Deterioration in quality/ quantity of work
  • Extreme disorganization
  • Inconsistent performance
  • Expression of unusual violence, morbidity or despair
  • Unusual response to grades or other evaluations

Behavioral and emotional indicators or distress:

  • Angry or hostile outbursts
  • More withdrawn or more
  • animated than usual
  • Expressions of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Crying or tearfulness
  • Expressions of severe anxiety or irritability
  • Excessively demanding or dependent behaviour
  • Shakiness, tremors, fidgeting, or pacing

Physical indicators of distress:

  • Deterioration in personal hygiene
  • Falling asleep in class repeatedly
  • Noticeable cuts, bruises, or burns
  • Frequent or chronic illness
  • Disorganized, rapid or slurred speech
  • Unusual inability to make eye contact
  • Coming to class bleary-eyed or smelling of alcohol
  • Visible changes in weight
  • Statements about change in appetite or sleep

Check out this great resource from OCAD: A Guide to Supporting Students in Distress

If you are regularly suffering from one or more of these stress symptoms, talk to a trusted professor, staff member, friend, family member, or seek the guidance of a professional from Campus Wellness.

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Here’s some tips on how you can manage stress and THRIVE:

  • Prioritizing, organizing and delegating tasks
  • Self-care activities (exercise, socializing, travel, etc)
  • Seeking support from family and friends
  • Attending a support group or stress management program, consulting a health care professional or accessing self-help materials
  • At work, speak with your boss & co-workers about workload/support

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