• Carol Baxter

The Difference between Positive and Negative Stress


Yes, We Have Both!


It’s so important to recognize the difference between these two regular visitors in our life. In fact I would venture to say that we can’t escape a day without experiencing both sides of the stress coin. What is so interesting about the difference between the two resides in our own perceptions. We are also led to believe that when we hear the word ‘stress’ it is a negative experience, and this is not always the case.


Positive Stress


Positive Stress is also known as eustress. It can be described as our perception of a situation that could be stressful, but instead we choose to believe it is an opportunity that will provide a good outcome. Some characteristics of positive stress include:


  • Feeling Excited

  • Motivation

  • Short Term

  • Enhanced Productivity


Because the difference between Positive and Negative Stress is based on our perception, we categorize the situations in our life depending on how we feel.


Here Are Some Common Examples Of Positive Stress:


  • Buying a house

  • Taking a vacation

  • Different holidays than last year

  • Marriage

  • Birth of a child

  • A new job

  • Large social events

  • Retiring

  • Moving


Negative Stress


There are several kinds of negative stress.


  1. Negative Stress or Distress is our perception of an event that causes us feelings of discomfort and anxiety. We perceive the situation to have a negative outcome.

  2. There is also Acute Stress, which is short term and can intensify and then disappear quickly.

  3. Chronic Stress is more long term and can last for weeks or even months.

Some characteristics of distress include:

  • Anxiety

  • Feels Unpleasant

  • Decreases Our Performance

  • We Believe The Situation To Be Outside Of Our Coping Skills


Some Common Examples Of Negative Stress Include:


  • Death

  • Long-term illness

  • Hospitalization

  • Losing a job

  • Insomnia

  • Divorce

  • Bankruptcy

  • Problems in relationships

While it is important to understand the difference between positive and negative stress, what is more intriguing is the distinction of how we perceive the different situations in our life. Stress is simply the body’s response to changes that create taxing demands.


We control how we choose to determine and process the events, people, and situations that present themselves to us. One of the ways we can begin to view situations differently is by becoming mindful of what is in front of us without being attached to the story.


As human beings we each view the world through our own lenses. For example, my perception of losing my job could leave me feeling devastated, lost, unsure, defeated and unmotivated. Someone else will choose to look at the situation as a stepping stone to something greater. They will experience motivation, encouragement, determination, strength and will power.


Here is a mindful practice to begin to embrace as you are presented with situations that may cause a reaction to label the event as negative, invoking a negative stress response.


1) TAKE A DEEP BREATH Breath in fully and completely five times, exhaling out all of the automated responses you are prone to express.


2) IMAGINE PUTTING ON A PAIR OF ROSE COLOURED GLASSES Ask yourself: how can I see this situation differently? Where is the light in this experience?


3) JOURNAL ABOUT THE EVENT Allow your feelings to flow on paper and consciously look for the good.

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