I’ve been thinking a lot recently about stress. As a culture we seem very anti-stress, which makes sense. When you begin to feel stressed it causes the release of cortisol into the body which can weaken your immune system and make your body susceptible to strokes over a long period of time. Not to mention the physiological effects on posture, heart-rate and body.
This is obviously bad, but at the same time stress is a very human thing to feel and to some people is the motivator they use to get up every day and carry on. Believe it or not there is such a thing as positive stress or as it’s more commonly known: Eustress.
Eustress is a short-term form of stress that is beneficial to the person as it inspires action, focus and motivation.
Got an Example?
Imagine you’re an actor and have been offered the role of a lifetime on your dream stage. Initially you are excited because your ability is finally being recognised and you have the chance to show the industry and world just how good you are. Suddenly you start feeling the stress of Imposter Syndrome creeping in: What if I am not ready for such a role? What if my current skills aren’t strong enough to do the role justice?
Eustress is the moment just before the Imposter Syndrome sets in and your mental health begins to suffer. It’s the moment when you hear the criticism and use that to inspire you to improve your skills or develop new ones. In this example, it would be acknowledging this feeling of unpreparedness and responding “Ok, time to get prepared!”, spending more time reading and analysing the text, doing extra acting classes or talking to mentor figures.
Taking action that is motivated by the stress of the task ahead.
Or, in the words of Cindy Gallop, you say to yourself:
“I’m going to f*cking well show you!”
How can I harness Eustress?
As with any idea you need to be open to it. No doubt you already harness Eustress in other aspects of your life, like the stress of paying your rent motivating you to work your money job to pay the bills. Just like acting, directing, designing or any creative skill it is about keeping the muscle flexed and conditioned. Try some of these things:
- Learn a New Skill: An actor I used to work with started learning British Sign Language a few years ago, for no other reason than he thought it would be a fun skill to have. By learning this skill, he has become much more physically expressive as an actor and is better prepared to learn blocking, film marking and choreography. Not got the money to spend on lessons? Why not meet a friend once a week and do a skill swap? They teach you one thing, you teach them something else.
- Exercise: Physical Eustress comes in the form of exercise. The exertion and effort causes stress for the body, but the positive effect it has on the body makes that into beneficial stress and gives you resilience for when this stress comes in other parts of your life.
- Do Some Self-Reflection: Stress of any kind is a result of an external challenge conflicting with your intrinsic views of your self or your abilities. One thing I recommend when I teach is doing a SWOT analysis. This is a form of self-analysis that new businesses are asked to do, but also applies to the freelance creative as you are your own business.
You split a page into 4 quadrants: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Under each heading list what you have based on where you are right now.
What strengths do you have?
What weakness do you have?
What opportunities are out there to turn your weaknesses into strengths?
What threats are stopping you or making it difficult for you to improve your weaknesses?
For more on SWOT analysis, check out our article on writing an effect SWOT, which you can find here.
For more on Eustress check out some of the links below:
What you need to know about Eustress – Very Well Mind: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-you-need-to-know-about-eustress-3145109
Stress Without Distress – Hans Selye: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stress-Without-Distress-Hans-Selye/dp/0397010265
How to make Stress your friend – Kelly McGonigal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcGyVTAoXEU