Sometimes stress is necessary, sometimes it’s tolerable, and sometimes it’s unhealthy.
If we didn’t have a stress response we’d never be able to grow and change, confront and deal with challenges. When you are playing a sport, for example, you NEED to have a stress response to be able to compete. Same with any performance, or taking a test, or a job interview (for just a few examples). The important thing is that with necessary or beneficial stress, you eventually get the signal that “all is ok” and you return to your regular state.
Survival stress is another example of beneficial or necessary stress. It necessary to keep us alive. It is usually over pretty quickly; once we figure out that we’re going to survive our bodies start to return to feeling normal. For example: if you are driving in your car and another car all of sudden cuts you off. Survival stress! You immediately go into action, either braking, swerving (yelling/cursing). Once you know you are safe, you can start returning to your normal state.
Frustration is a good example of tolerable stress. Most stressors that are temporary are tolerable.
Here is an example: your little sister’s best friend is sleeping over tonight. She is driving you crazy!!! She follows you around and tries to copy everything you do and say. Your mom says you should take it as a compliment, but you hate it!
As soon as dinner is over, you excuse yourself and go to your room for the rest of the evening. You close your door and remind yourself that she will be gone tomorrow after breakfast.
Tolerable stress doesn’t feel great, but eventually it’s over and we go back to feeling normal.
Unhealthy or Toxic Stress
Stress that is chronic (ongoing) is unhealthy and this can lead to a toxic situation. At first, we may just feel vaguely tired, or a bit nauseous, or cranky, or have trouble sleeping.
But if it continues, the body and mind become exhausted and don’t function well anymore. This can lead to major illness and disease. This is when “stress” has become “distress”.
Examples of chronic stressors:
- Ongoing poverty
- Violence in the family
- Ongoing worry/anxiety
- Ill family member
- traumatic childhood experiences