Press When Full – Eustress

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We all carry stress with us – it’s like having a stress bucket that you are slowly filling up. Now wouldn’t it be great to have a button to press when that bucketful of stress gets too full.

Reduced to its simplest form, stress works like this :

  • Small amounts of stress – good;
  • Large amounts of stress – bad.

We all store stress. I describe this to my clients as a “stress bucket”. We all store the stresses of the day in our stress bucket, and then empty the stress bucket either by resolving the issues that cause it, or during sleep where our brains use dreams to resolve the stresses that we carry. So for well-balanced people, it all balances out in the end.

But it’s when our stress bucket gets too full that problems start to arise.

Everyone has a different capacity for stress. Some have a huge stress bucket and have an enormous capacity for dealing with high pressure situations. Others have a very small stress bucket – maybe it’s a stress teacup – and seem to blow up at the tiniest thing.

But however large your capacity for stress – things will go wrong if it gets too full. We start to develop anxiety, panic attacks, over-thinking problems and a whole range of physical symptoms.

Susan Jeffers is famous for saying, “Feel the fear and do it anyway” – the title of her best-selling self help book. When you are afraid to do something, and you do it anyway, you take on a huge amount of stress. Provided you have the capacity for that amount of stress – this is where you find you can achieve a huge amount. Pushing yourself to the limit of your stress is where we maximise our achievement.

Hans Selye coined the term “eustress” (pronounced as if you are saying, “You-Stress”). It is defined as the stress you need to achieve what you want, but is not so much that you are overwhelmed. This is the good stress – it helps us get out of bed in the morning and go out to achieve stuff.

So it is now widely recognised that “some” stress is good. But having too much stress pushes us into anxiety and panic. If you have a very low amount of stress in your life – you are unlikely to achieve very much. Increasing the amount of stress will allow you to achieve more – this is eustress. But when you are too stressed, your performance and achievement drops, you become anxious and you can suffer from panic attacks.

Another way to describe this is the three zones model

Comfort zone – just doing the stuff we have always done before and are comfortable with. This is the ultra low-stress zone.
Stretch zone – doing new stuff that we are slightly uncomfortable with. It stretches us and pushes us outside our comfort zone. This is the eustress zone.
Panic zone – where we push ourselves too far. We are so far out of our comfort zone that we are filled with anxiety and panic.

Everyone has to learn how much stress they are happy with – how much stress they need to put themselves under to achieve what they want to achieve, without reaching that breaking point. Once you know that – spend your life mostly in you comfort zone, some time in your stretch zone, and avoid the panic zone. Find the point of stress that takes you into a stretch and the point at which you hit the panic zone, and you can live a happy and fulfilled life.


Review of “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway”

Overview of Eustress


Photo by Brands&People on Unsplash

Tim Maude

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