Monday Mornings with Madison


During such difficult economic times, many of us are – not surprisingly – experiencing much more stress in our lives. Our fight-or-flight instincts are constantly being triggered by unpleasant or anxious thoughts.  Since we are not engineered to function well under a constant barrage of stress, the global economy is negatively impacting us on a most personal level: our health. The medical community agrees that most diseases in the developed world are caused by stress and poor lifestyle choices, so our ability to manage stress can make all the difference between life and death.  The sooner we get our stress levels under control, the better for our long-term well-being.

The Canadian endocrinologist Dr. Hans Selye (1907-1982) was one of the first to demonstrate the existence of biological stress in the 1950s. One of his most interesting theories was that there are two types of stress: distress and eustress. Distress is a disrupting, troublesome, and catastrophic form of stress. Conversely, eustress is the stress that enables a person to be motivated by challenges and enjoy experiences. Unlike distress, eustress results in feelings of accomplishment, pride and success. Distress, on the other hand, is linked to feelings of resentment, powerlessness and self-pity.

Both distress and positive stress involve similar symptoms:  you may feel an increased heart rate or butterflies in the stomach. The challenge in these stressful times is to first understand which type of stress you are experiencing and then to ensure you don’t overload even on positive stress.

Mobilize yourself
The easiest way to differentiate between distress and eustress is to look at where you end up. If you end up feeling motivated, energized and happy, you’re probably experiencing good stress. If, on the other hand, you feel depressed, irritable and overwhelmed, you are caught in the grips of distress. Without practice, though, it is not so simple to differentiate between good stress and bad stress, and then modulate distress to become a positive force in  your life.

One of the most effective ways to turn distress into eustress is to examine the underlying cause of your stress. Much of the time, the cause is a real-life challenge that you’ve decided is too big; too overwhelming. You begin to focus on the difficulties, magnify the threats and pretty soon, you are envisioning a catastrophe — one that doesn’t exist! 

What you can do instead is go back to the challenge and see it for what it is: not a catastrophe but something that needs to get done. For example, if your business is not succeeding, you’re stressed because you are at point A (not succeeding in business) and you would like to be at point B (building a successful business).  Now you have a decision to make. You can use the stress of your challenge to mobilize yourself or you can use it to paralyze yourself. Positive stress can be the motivating force that pushes you to tackle your challenges and to reach that point B. Or you can shift into distress by focusing on how hard your challenges are and how victimized you are by them.

Once you make this decision, consciously or not, events start to take their own course. You will either find yourself taking one small step at a time, moving forward to resolve your challenge. Or you will find yourself falling deeper and deeper into anxiety and depression. Just remember that no matter what your challenges are, you can use the stress you feel to help you prevail and succeed. Then, take a break. Let your mind and spirit relax before you move on once more.

“Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.”  Dr. Hans Selye

© 2009 – 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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