The Canadian physician Hans Selye was first to define stress as the response to stressors in the environment. He considered stressors to be the external demands or influence an individual feels at any given time. Selye separated stress into two categories: distress and eustress. Distress occurs when there is too much or too little demand on an individual and disrupts homeostasis. Too much stress can cause performance to decline, whereas no stress at all may cause an individual to lack the motivation and energy to perform. When stress is at a moderate level, it supplies the individual with enough energy to accomplish high levels of performance. During this optimal level of arousal, eustress is believed to occur, which is why eustress is commonly referred to as positive stress. Unlike negative stress (distress), eustress is believed to have benefits to the body and mind. These include increased mental alertness and awareness and improved emotional and physical well-being.
In addition, Bret Simmons and Debra Nelson found that when employees experience eustress, they will be more likely to have a positive perception of their own health.
Selye believed there are ways for people to experience more eustress and less distress by changing how they perceive and react to their stressors. He suggested that having more positive or optimistic views of stress-ors will increase eustress, performance, and overall health (i.e., lowered blood pressure, less depression, and less susceptibility to diseases). Research indicates that eustress is positively correlated with employees’ level of job satisfaction and causes less turnover. Supervisors can promote eustress among employees by setting realistic goals and deadlines for projects, by giving appraisals and encouragement to employees, and by displaying positive, calm reactions of their own during times of difficulty.
- Le Fevre, M., Matheny, J., & Kolt, G. S. (2003). Eustress, distress, and interpretation in occupational stress. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 18, 726-744.
- Selye, H. (1974). Stress withoutdistress. Philadelphia: Lippincott.
- Selye, H. (1978). The stress of life. New York: McGraw-Hill. (Original work published in 1956)