by Stacy Mosel, LMSW
Stress often gets a bad rap, so it may surprise you that some stress can actually be good for you. Health professionals use the term “eustress” to refer to good stress, which is the type of acute stress that can benefit you, as opposed to “distress,” or negative/chronic stress, which can cause a range of adverse effects, including health issues like cardiovascular diseases, anxiety and depression. While good stress can be a positive thing, the benefits don’t happen automatically.
Keep reading to learn what to do so you can benefit from healthy levels of stress, and how CBD may be a useful adjunct. We’ll also help you understand how to recognize when to take action to prevent chronic stress.
How Can Stress Be Positive?
It’s important to have some stress in your life. Sure, there’s the dreaded long-term or negative stress that typically results in excessive worry and tension. Chronic or negative stress can result in a host of problems and even cause accelerated aging and oxidative damage. That’s the kind of stress we want to avoid or limit as much as possible. But then there’s eustress (e.g., an intense workout, moving to a new home or starting a new career path), which can have positive benefits, such as decreasing oxidative damage and increasing psychological and physical resilience, according to a study published in the journal, Psychoneuroendocrinology. Eustress boosts your confidence, gets you excited about life, helps you achieve your goals, and motivates you to keep moving forward.
4 Ways to Make Stress Work in Your Favor
What can you do to benefit from normal amounts of acute stress? The most important thing to remember is that balance is the key. Essentially, anything you do to create a system of harmony and equilibrium in your body and mind is going to help and will provide benefits. Much of it has to do with your mindset and perspective. Here are some ideas to help you get started:
- Develop mindful awareness
Mindfulness is often defined as non-judging awareness of the present moment. A study published in the journal, Psychiatry Research, has shown that mindfulness can lead to a less intense stress response and can increase overall stress resilience. When you feel the onset of stress, take a moment to check in with the way you are feeling. Take a few deep breaths and focus on one part of your body that feels good — you might notice the warmth in your hands or the rise and fall of your chest as you breathe. Pay attention to what is happening right now without worrying about what has already happened or what might happen.
- Take a meditation break
Meditation is one of the oldest methods of managing stress and staying grounded. There’s a reason health and wellness experts continue to preach about it. And you don’t need to spend hours a day in full lotus pose to reap the benefits — research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry has shown that taking a meditation break for five minutes twice a day can help. But it’s important to be consistent. The more you practice, the better the results. If you have a hard time focusing, consider using a free guided meditation to help you stay on track.
- Focus on what could go right
Research shows that one of the reasons we experience certain events as more stressful than others is the mismatch between what we think will happen and what actually happens. How many times have you anticipated the worst-case scenario and how many times did that actually occur? As Mark Twain famously said, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” Humans have an innate negativity bias that has helped us survive, but even just imagining a negative outcome can create the same stress response as if the event actually did happen. Instead of focusing on what could go wrong, try to shift your focus to what could go right.
- Let go and let it flow
There are things you can control in life and, admittedly, things you can’t. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference — we think we can control things we really can’t, or we think we can’t influence things that we actually can. Make a list of your stressors and cross off the things that you cannot control. These are the things that you need to work on accepting and allowing life to work out for you, one way or another. Then you’ll have more mental space to take action on the things that are within your realm of influence.
How Can CBD Help?
CBD is a non-psychoactive (meaning you won’t get high) compound found in the Cannabis sativa plant. Numerous studies have shown that it may help support a normal response to acute stress in a variety of ways. If you’re tossing and turning at night, CBD may help calm your mind and help improve sleep, according to a study in the Permanente Journal. CBD may also help decrease a fear response to stress, according to a study in the journal Neurotherapeutics.
When Stress is No Longer Your Friend
When acute stress goes unmanaged, you might need to step back and evaluate actions you can take to stop the progression toward chronic or unhealthy levels of stress. Signs of unhealthy stress can include:
- Excessive, chronic worry and tension
- Irritability or mood swings
- Anger outbursts
- Difficulty concentrating
- An inability to relax
- Feeling constantly overwhelmed
- Sleep changes
- Eating more or less than usual
- Unexplained bodily aches or pains
You may need to take more drastic steps, such as eliminating toxic relationships from your life, exercising, limiting your social media usage, connecting with positive people, stepping back from commitments or activities that no longer fulfill you and reaching out for help. Remember that asking for help is a sign of strength, and everyone needs a helping hand at times. If you’re interested in finding a therapist or counselor to talk to, you can ask your physician for a referral or search treatment providers on Psychology Today’s directory.
Stacy Mosel, LMSW, is a licensed social worker and psychotherapist. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in music from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, she continued her studies at New York University, earning a master of social work degree in 2002. She writes in the fields of mental health and holistic wellness, drawing on her prior experiences as an employee assistance program counselor, individual and family therapist, and assistant director of a child and family services agency.
2016 ACM International Joint Conference - Eustress or Distress: An Empirical Study of Perceived Stress in Everyday College Life
Biomedicines - “The Link between Chronic Stress and Accelerated Aging”
Psychoneuroendocrinology - “Good Stress, Bad Stress and Oxidative Stress: Insights from Anticipatory Cortisol Reactivity”
Bemidji State University - Balancing Stress for Healthy Living
UC Berkeley - Researchers find out why some stress is good for you
Journal of Psychology & Clinical Psychiatry - “Effects of Five-Minute Mindfulness Meditation on Mental Health Care Professionals”
University of Minnesota Bakken Centre for Spirituality & Healing - Meditations
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - “Cross-national evidence of a negativity bias in psychophysiological reactions to news”
Surgical Neurology International - “Review of the neurological benefits of phytocannabinoids”
Permanente Journal - “Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series”
Neurotherapeutics - “Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders”Mental Health Foundation - How to manage and reduce stress