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Is “Stress” good or bad?

“STRESS” - This six-letter word has caused hundreds of thousands of illnesses around the world, cost companies millions and has an enormous impact on our economies today. In the United States alone stress is responsible for $190 Billion in US Healthcare costs. So it seems like stress is bad for all of us? Well the answer isn’t so straightforward.

Stress has several definitions. The one that I commonly use is defined by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, as “people experience stress when they perceive an imbalance between the demands made of them and the resources they have available to cope with those demands.” So it sounds pretty clear that stress is a matter of demand exceeding supply.

The truth is stress is not something that you are or you aren’t. Stress is a continuum and there actually is good stress. In fact too little stress can have a negative impact on some people. The picture below will show you a continuum followed by a description of each of the different types of stress.

1. Eustress

This is the good stress, a short termed stress that gives you strength and enhances your functioning. An example of this could be, having to work on a project you love, and being able to utilise your skills within a realistic timeframe.

2. Neustress

This type of stress is neither good nor bad, and it doesn’t have a detrimental physical or emotional impact on your wellbeing. An example of this could be purchasing coffee for your boss every morning.

3. Distress

This is a negative form of stress that will usually have a negative impact on your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. It can be either acute or chronic in nature. An example of this could be, being given a task you have no skills off, being asked to complete it within an unrealistic timeframe, and having to deal with personal issues at home.

4. Hyperstress

This is when the stress you are experiencing has exceeded the distress level and you start to feel overwhelmed and overloaded. An example of this could be, having to deal with large amounts of workload, under tight deadlines for extended periods without any support.

5. Hypostress

This is quite the opposite to hyperstress and it occurs when you are being given work which is unstimulating and unchallenging. An example of this could be, being given menial tasks and work which is not part of the role throughout the day.

Please note that the experience of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ stress differs with every individual. You may or may not respond to the same stressor in the same manner. For example to one person, being given a short deadline may be stressful where as for another person, a tight deadline gives them a positive drive to complete their tasks.

Stress is a continuum and can be both good and bad depending on the type and the individual experiencing it.

The author, Bhali Gill is an organisational psychologist, executive coach, trainer and writer at Corporate Wellbeing. If you would like to contact her about the post or for any enquires please drop her an email at

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