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Good Stress vs. Bad Stress: What's The Difference?

Good Stress vs. Bad Stress: What's The Difference?

The word “stress” has gained a negative connotation over the years. When people say they’re stressed, they usually mean that they don’t feel good. The reasons vary—anxiety, exhaustion, illness, work burnout, or other factors. But did you know that stress is not always bad? Yes, there is such a thing as “good” stress. Read on to understand the key differences between good stress vs. bad stress.

Understanding Good Stress vs. Bad Stress

Stress is triggered by the body’s natural flight-or-fight response to danger or challenging situations. Eustress is a type of “good” stress that benefits the body while distress does the opposite.

Eustress can be:

  • a source of motivation that will aid in focusing your energy towards your work or goals.
  • a short-term sensation and is usually accompanied by thrill or exhilaration.
  • a source of discomfort, but is still manageable.

In contrast, distress can:

  • cause anxiety, depression, or other mental or physical problems.
  • last for a short or long period.
  • lead to discomfort that goes beyond a person’s ability to cope.

Eustress vs. Distress

In the Philippines, one major source of distress is the traffic congestion that makes commuting extremely difficult for many people. On top of heavy traffic, people with no private vehicles have to deal with problematic modes of transportation, unpredictable weather, rising fare rates, and commutes that take an average of 3-4 hours each day.

This experience is very easy to categorize as distress. Other experiences and events, though, are not as easy to categorize, into positive or negative sources of stress.

But experts have made the following generalizations:


  • A new romantic relationship, dating or marriage
  • Starting a new job, especially if you’ve just graduated, or getting a promotion
  • Buying or experiencing something you previously couldn’t afford, like a house or an expensive bag, or traveling
  • Having a child
  • Exercising
  • Pursuing something pleasurable, like planning a vacation or a new hobby
  • Retiring from a job you love


  • A change in the family through death, divorce, or other forms of separation or interpersonal relationships
  • Unemployment, job insecurity, or a job that is too demanding, or a toxic workplace
  • Money problems, like debts or bankruptcy
  • Problems related to a child, like bullying or behavioral issues
  • Mental, physical or emotional illness, either personal or a family
  • A traumatic experience or abuse
  • Retiring without savings

One point worth noting about the conditions stated above is a person’s ability to cope with a stressor. Since each person is different, coping levels are also different.

Let’s take retiring, for example. It can be eustress or distress depending on the retiree.

Someone who has worked in a good company and has financial stability can look forward to retiring. In contrast, someone who has money problems will dread retirement and might even work even beyond retirement age, just to have a steady income.

Another example of an event that can be classified as both eustress and distress is riding a rollercoaster. Someone who lives for the thrill will love a rollercoaster ride, while someone who hates such a ride will find it scary.

Impact of Stress on a Person

Eustress can be useful. It is this type of stress that propels an athlete to take that last-second shot.

This type of stress is what motivates a student to study hard for an exam. It is the force that inspires workers to meet deadlines and perform well. It is what moves a couple to buy the perfect gift for each other during their anniversary.

In contrast, chronic distress can take a toll on overall health. Being forced to go through a long commute 5 to 6 days a week affects not just the body but the mental and emotional wellbeing of commuters.

Stress buildup can lead to physical, mental, and emotional medical conditions like:

  • headaches
  • heartburn
  • sleeping problems
  • breathing problems
  • weakened immune systems
  • depression
  • anxiety disorders
  • increased risks of heart attacks
  • higher blood sugar and blood pressure
  • issues with sexual reproduction systems
  • stomach troubles
  • tension in muscles

Key Takeaways

Stress is inevitable. Since ancient times, stress has been part of life. Because of stress, our ancestors were able to harness fire for food and protection. They were able to build houses to protect themselves against wild animals and the weather.

One vital point to remember is that stress can be about perception. If you think that something is too difficult for you then your body will go into a flight mode that will lead to distress. However, if you believe that you can tackle a challenge, then you will trigger your body’s fight mode and the experience can be classified as eustress.

This is important because it means that you can change how you respond to certain stressful situations. You can try the following strategies to change distress into eustress:

  • Be aware of what you need, want, and feel. Know where your boundaries are.
  • Manage your time so that you can take care of different aspects of your life.
  • Recognize the importance of rest.
  • Listen to music you like.
  • Get a massage.
  • Move your body. Exercise, play sports, or just take a few minutes to stretch.
  • Smile and take several deep breaths.

But it’s also important to know when to seek help. Talk about your feelings with a trusted group, like family, friends. You can also join a support group online or enlist the help of a therapist. This is especially important if your stress is a result of trauma or abuse.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


American Addiction Center (n.d.). Types of Stressors (Eustress vs. Distress). https://www.mentalhelp.net/stress/types-of-stressors-eustress-vs-distress/.

Rappler (2019). FAST FACTS: State of Metro Manila’s public transport system. https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/iq/242244-things-to-know-about-metro-manila-public-transport-system.

IBON Foundation (2019). Solving the NCR mass transport crisis. https://www.ibon.org/solving-the-ncr-mass-transport-crisis/.

Positive Psychology (2020). What is Eustress And How is It Different than Stress? https://positivepsychology.com/what-is-eustress.

Psychology Today (2016). Why Stress Is Both Good and Bad. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-wide-wide-world-psychology/201601/why-stress-is-both-good-and-bad.

American Institute of Stress (n.d.). How Stress Affects Your Body. https://www.stress.org/how-stress-affects-your-body.

GMA News (2017). 12 ways to fight stress, according to DOH. https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/lifestyle/healthandwellness/629704/12-ways-to-fight-stress-according-to-doh/story.

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Written by Tracey Romero Updated Jun 14, 2021
Medically reviewed by Mike-Kenneth Go Doratan, M.D.