What is Stress? And How To Relieve It

What is Stress? And How To Relieve It

Jul 12 2016

Stress is universal. Simply put, if you are alive today, you are experiencing some form of it.

By: Angie Horjus, CHWC

Upon hearing the word “stress,” many people automatically think of the negative, damage-causing kind: distress. However, there is more than one type and some types of stress are actually good for you. Whether the source is internal or external, perceived as good or bad, understanding stress is the first step toward knowing how to manage it.

Here are the various types of stress, how you can recognize them and ways to manage the negative stress for a healthier you.

Good vs. Bad Stress

Distress – or bad stress – is described as great pain, anxiety or sorrow with acute physical or mental suffering or affliction. This is what most of us associate with the word stress. Eustress, or good stress, is a term which was coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye, and is defined as stress that is healthy, or gives one a feeling of fulfillment or other positive feelings.


  • Acute Distress is having or experiencing a rapid onset of stress in short, but severe, phases. It can be a devastating event in our life that brings about negative thoughts, feelings and possibly actions.
  • Chronic Distress is long-lasting, recurrent stress or characterized by long suffering. It is the ongoing, daily stress of negative situations in our lives; bad relationships, an unfulfilling job, etc.

Take a moment this week to consider what stress is in your life. Start to develop a personal plan as to how you will first understand and then manage your stress.

Physical and mental health can be greatly compromised when distress develops. Studies show that the effect of distress can increase the chance of a heart attack and chronic conditions such as asthma may be experienced more intensely during times of stress.


  • Acute Eustress happens quickly when an event or interaction causes good feelings.
  • Chronic Eustress is prolonged positive feelings and is beneficial to the body. It happens when you love your job, feel good about your relationships, you exercise regularly and take care of your mind. You have rhythm in your life, and even though events can add pressure, it’s a healthy pressure that keeps you moving forward.

This type of stress is still considered a “stressor” for the body but instead of a negative reaction, it results in a sense of meaning, hoping and/or positivity and is correlated with life satisfaction and overall wellbeing.

Relieve Stress: How to Move Away From Your Distress Toward Eustress

Tap into the parasympathetic nervous system by breathing, self-soothing with exercise, and unwinding with mind and body sessions.

Tune in to your distress triggers:

  • Too busy?
  • Attention pulled in too many directions?
  • Project deadlines?
  • Overwhelmed?
Priority Health_Health Condition Management_Relieve Stress_What is Stress_Journaling

Know your physical body and mental thought cues:

  • “When I am not sleeping well, it’s time to…”
  • “When I can’t concentrate at work, I will…”
  • “When food becomes my self-soothing tool, I need…”
  • “When my stomach is in knots, I slow down to…”

Ways to manage when negativity strikes:

Create a list of go-to stress relievers you’ll have on hand when it’s time to get back on track. Some people count on:

  • Faith
  • Healthy support system
  • Proper nutrition, adequate exercise and enough sleep
  • Quiet space for rest and reflection
  • Positive reframing of events

Try the following to get started:  

  • Take three slow, deep breaths
  • Rhythmic physical activity like walking and riding a bike
  • Stretching to relieve muscles tension  
Priority Health_Health Condition Management_Relieve Stress_What is Stress_Stretch
  • Progressive relaxation – tighten every muscle in your body from head to toe, then slowly release each muscle group one at a time  
  • Relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga and tai chi
  • Engage in lifestyle activities that make you happy

Here are some stress prevention strategies:

  • Develop a daily self-care routine with action steps you’ll take to keep yourself in a calm, mindful place  
  • Evaluate your self-talk. Recognize, listen, and evaluate how you talk to yourself during times of stress. Is it respectful, kind and supportive?
  • Reframe your thoughts to create a mindset needed to cause a positive outlook
  • Think deeply and identify beliefs that may be holding you in a stressful situation or make notes about how you successfully beat stress in the past
  • Reflect and talk things out with a trusted friend or professional

Take a moment this week to consider what stress is in your life. Bring awareness about the type  of stress by writing in a journal or making a list. Be specific on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of its effect. Observe how well, or not, you adapt to change. Start to develop a personal plan as to how you will first understand and then manage your stress.

About the author: Angie Horjus has been an inspirational force in the health and fitness industry for 20+ years in the Grand Rapids, MI area.  She has an English degree from G.V.S.U. and holds industry-respected certifications including, but not limited to, NASM-CPT and Wellcoaches® Health and Wellness Coach.

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