Assess your Stress: Distress vs. Eustress

by Dr. Rebecca Chatfield, Naturopathic Medical Doctor, The Mobile Health Doc

Although the contemporary term “stress” is frequently used and well recognized, the biological concept of stress was not popularized until the 1950s.

Stress is broadly defined as a “response to an environmental demand or pressure,” and although it is often associated with something negative, harmful or unhealthy, stress itself isn’t inherently problematic.

Not all stress has the same effect.

There is another form of stress recognized as “eustress” that has positive and beneficial effects on the mind and body. This type of stress can improve physical stamina, increase self-esteem and enhance work productivity.

Some examples of eustress include physical stressors like exercise, heat/cold exposure, intermittent fasting and emotional stressors such as starting a new job, taking a vacation or working on meaningful projects and hobbies.

Research has shown that it is possible to shift from the negative form of stress — “distress” — to eustress with the help of some physical and mental changes. Since it is impossible to eliminate stress from your life, here are some tips on how to shift from distress to eustress:


Adopting an optimistic outlook and experiencing life with a positive attitude can change your mental health and can even shift your physiological reaction to stress. Finding meaning in challenges and seeing stressors as opportunities for growth also can lead to improved stress resilience.


Movement is one of the quickest ways to shift from a state of distress to eustress. Research reveals that being physically active improves the way the body manages stress because of the changes seen in hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood and mindset.

Paced breathing

Breathing often becomes fast and shallow when in a state of distress. Slowing down respiration at a rhythmic pace signals safety and can help manage thoughts, mood and experiences and bring about a healthier stress response.ds.

Adaptogenic herbs

Adaptogens have been used for centuries to counteract the effects of environmental and emotional stressors. Some that have shown to be especially beneficial include ashwagandha, holy basil, astragalus, licorice root and rhodiola.

Common negative health consequences from distress include chronic fatigue, sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, hypertension, headaches and reduced immune function.

If you are experiencing negative health consequences from distress or looking to optimize your stress response, seek out an integrative health care provider.