Eustress vs distress: types of stressors explained

The differences between positive and negative stress, including real-world examples of each.

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Stress is an unavoidable part of modern life. However, not all stress is detrimental. Understanding the nuances of stress is crucial for our mental health and wellbeing. This article delves into the concepts of eustress and distress, two fundamentally different types of stress that impact us in different ways.

What is eustress?

Eustress, often termed 'positive stress,' is a concept that can play a pivotal role in motivating and energising you. It's the type of stress you might experience when you’re excited or positively challenged.

Unlike distress, eustress is short-term and feels as though it’s within our coping abilities. It's the kind of stress you feel when you're riding a rollercoaster, excited about a new opportunity, or even when you're engaged in a challenging but enjoyable hobby.

Eustress is something we all experience, and shouldn’t be viewed as negative. It can be essential for your development, leading to improved performance, better problem-solving skills and enhanced creativity.

Situations where eustress arise can be tough – like training and competing in a marathon – but this type of stress can be positively harnessed to motivate you to achieve. It prompts us to adapt, learn and grow, contributing positively to our overall mental wellbeing.

What is distress?

Distress is a form of stress you probably have a greater understanding of. It’s likely that you’ll suffer from distress when challenges or demands exceed our perceived ability to cope – driving harmful symptoms of stress.

Unlike eustress, which can be energising, distress can be depleting. It happens when you face continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between stressors, leading to a sense of being overburdened or overwhelmed. You might find yourself in distress in situations like prolonged work-related pressure, facing persistent financial difficulties, or dealing with chronic health issues.

If left unmanaged, distress can lead to serious mental health concerns like anxiety disorders or depression. Understanding and identifying distress is crucial for effectively managing your stress levels and maintaining good mental health.

What's the difference between eustress and distress?

The primary difference between eustress and distress lies in the effects they can have on our health and wellbeing. Eustress acts as a positive force that encourages us to face challenges with a sense of purpose and vigour. If you achieve your planned goals and objectives in line with what’s driving the eustress, it can lead to a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Distress, in contrast, can leave you feeling overwhelmed and drained, leading to a decrease in performance. Over time, this might negatively impact your mental health.

One key factor between these two types of stressors is control. Eustress is usually associated with situations where we feel a sense of control and believe that the stressor is something we can handle. Distress is often linked to situations where we feel a lack of control and see the stressor as a threat.

Examples of eustress and distress

Understanding some practical examples of eustress and distress can help you to distinguish between the two.

Here are a few real world examples of each:

Examples of positive stress (eustress)

  • Achieving personal goals: successfully reaching personal milestones, such as running a marathon or learning a new skill
  • Career advancement: receiving a promotion, starting a new job, or embarking on a new business venture
  • Educational challenges: enrolling in further education, studying for exams, or learning a new language
  • Life events: planning a wedding, preparing for a holiday, or moving to a new home
  • Creative projects: engaging in artistic activities, writing a book, or starting a blog
  • Physical exercise: participating in sports, fitness challenges, or a new exercise regime
  • Social interactions: meeting new people, hosting events, or socialising in new environments

Examples of negative stress (distress)

  • Work-related pressure: experiencing tight deadlines, high workloads, or job insecurity
  • Financial difficulties: struggling with debt, managing expenses, or facing a loss of income
  • Health concerns: dealing with chronic illness, injury, or mental health issues
  • Relationship problems: navigating conflicts, break-ups, or family disputes
  • Environmental factors: living in a noisy, polluted, or unsafe area
  • Lack of work-life balance: struggling to manage professional and personal responsibilities
  • Unexpected life events: coping with the loss of a loved one, car accident, or other traumatic event

What are positive responses to stress?

Adopting positive responses to stress is crucial for turning potential challenges into opportunities for growth. Here, we outline some examples of how you can deal with stress better:

  • Mindfulness and awareness: being aware of your reactions to stress and using mindfulness practices can reduce stress. Techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can be beneficial in reducing the negative impact of stress
  • Physical activity and nutrition: regular exercise and a balanced diet play a critical role in managing your mental health. Physical activity releases endorphins, which are natural mood lifters, while a nutritious diet can help with everything from memory to energy levels
  • Positive reframing: changing the way you perceive stress can transform your response to it. Viewing stressful situations as opportunities to learn and grow can alter your experience of stress and turn situations that once caused you anxiety into positive experiences
  • Seeking support: building a support network of friends, family, or professionals can provide emotional support and practical advice during stressful times. Sometimes, just talking about what’s causing you stress can be a huge relief
  • Time management: prioritising tasks, setting realistic goals, and taking regular breaks can prevent the feeling of being overwhelmed. Many of these are related to your mental health at work. A big driver of negative stress can be taking on too much in the office – applying these strategies can help you reduce the negative effects

Our services

Our mental health treatment programme at Roehampton provides high quality support for a range of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, stress, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

If you struggle with a mental health problem, this can reduce your health and wellbeing, and prevent you functioning in your daily life. Without help, your mental health issues can have a negative impact on a whole range of things, including your relationships, your performance at work or school, and they can even lead to other mental health problems. That’s why it’s so important to get the help you need.

Mental health patients at Roehampton will benefit from:

  • An individually tailored treatment plan
  • Round-the-clock care
  • One 1:1 therapy session a week and you will have the opportunity to engage in relevant group therapy
  • Evidence-based techniques
  • Support to alleviate your symptoms and develop effective coping mechanisms for the future

If you or someone you know is suffering with a mental health problem, it’s important to know that you’re not alone; treatment is available. At Roehampton, you'll receive every resource you need to tackle your mental health difficulties and pave the way towards a more positive future.

If you struggle with an addiction, you’ll know that this can have a devastating effect on your quality of life. At Priory Hospital Roehampton, our addiction treatment specialists can provide support for many different addictions, ranging from substance addictions like drugs and alcohol, to behavioural addictions like gambling, internet and shopping. We place you at the centre of your private addiction treatment programme, helping you to tackle your concerns and achieve the best possible outcomes.

At Roehampton, we’re world-renowned for our addiction treatment programme. Our comprehensive 28-day programme includes:

  • A free, no obligation addiction assessment
  • 7-day medically supervised detoxification, if this is needed
  • On-site fellowship meetings
  • Free aftercare for life following treatment
  • Step-down programme for a smooth transition back into the community

The addiction therapy we deliver is led by our highly experienced therapists and your overall care is overseen by our consultants. We understand that addictions can go hand-in-hand with other mental health problems, which is why we can also treat other disorders at the same time as treating your addiction.

At Priory Hospital Roehampton, we understand that addiction recovery can be a lifelong pursuit. That’s why we offer free aftercare for life, once you've completed our full 28-day addiction treatment programme. Our aftercare programme consists of support groups, continuous networking assistance, talks, ongoing advice, alumni events as well as family support groups. We'll also provide you with a tailored continuing care plan when you finish treatment with us, helping you to transition from hospital back to your day-to-day life.

Our free addiction assessment

We offer a free addiction assessment for you to discuss your challenges with one of our experts, supporting you to start your recovery. Speak to a specialist:

  • Face-to-face
  • Over the phone

Richmond Court is our dedicated private adolescent mental health service, providing inpatient mental health treatment to young people between the ages of 12 and 17. We offer a welcoming, comfortable and age-appropriate environment, and provide individually tailored support based on diagnosis and needs to help our young patients get back on track.

We can help young people who are struggling with a range of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, school phobia, OCD, PTSD, psychosis and self-harm. We can also support adolescents who are experiencing emotional difficulties in relation to things like bullying or family conflict.

We provide a range of evidence-based therapies, interventions and wellbeing activities, designed to engage young people in treatment and support them to get better. We also offer ongoing access to education via our on-site school, so our young people can continue with their studies while they’re with us.

As well as the intensive therapeutic element of treatment, our young people are also provided with on-site school facilities, delivered by specialist and understanding teachers, to ensure ongoing access to education and build their confidence within small supported groups.

In summary:

  • Our education provision is Ofsted-registered and approved
  • Each young person receives bespoke, 1:1 tutoring if required
  • Personal development sessions which may focus on career advice, or social and emotional skills, are incorporated into schooling through group sessions


We also understand that improving patients’ general sense of wellbeing can help them in their recovery journey. That’s why we also provide a number of wellbeing activities, helping you to stay healthy in mind, body and spirit while you’re with us. These include:

Yoga, Tai Chi and Shiatsu classes
Gym facilities
Guided walks
Recreational quizzes and movie nights
Meditation and relaxation classes

What our patients say...

At Roehampton, the experience of the people we support is central to the delivery of our services, and the ongoing focus of our team.

would recommend our addiction service to a friend
feel the support offered has helped their recovery
feel that staff are caring and supportive
of addiction patients said staff took time to listen to their needs

Page clinically reviewed by Dr Donna Grant (BSc, MBBS, MRCPsych) Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Chelmsford.

Contact us to make an enquiry or for more information

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