All Stress Isn’t Bad - Here’s the Difference Between Good and Bad Stress

Updated: May 25

Two female friends experiencing stress on a roller coaster

Most conversations around stress are about how harmful it is, but did you know that there's such a thing as "good" stress and it can actually be beneficial? Here's how to tell the difference between good and bad stress.

Key takeaways:

  • Stress is a normal response to the demands on our lives and time. Everyone experiences it.

  • Not all stress is bad. There are two types – good stress (eustress) and bad stress (distress).

  • Eustress can help you push yourself to meet goals and deadlines, and experience achievements.

  • Eustress is acute, short-term stress.

  • Bad stress is typically associated with long-term, chronic stress.

  • Bad stress can lead to physical and mental health issues.

  • Having stress management skills is vital.

  • Therapy may help you learn how to better manage stress.

Everyone experiences stress. It’s a normal response to the many demands on our lives and time. What many people don’t know, however, is that not all stress is bad. Good stress, or eustress, can help you push yourself to meet goals or make achievements.

When stress becomes chronic, overwhelming, or long-term, it can become distress or “bad stress” – both mentally and physically. Our bodies might interpret high levels of stress as a life-threatening situation, even if we’re physically safe. They’ll activate our “fight or flight” response to protect us.

When the “fight or flight” response is chronically activated, it can lead to anxiety, depression, sleep problems, substance use, and even medical issues such as difficulty conceiving, cardiovascular disease, immune system illnesses, gastrointestinal problems, and more. Again, stress does not have to be bad, though. Here’s how to tell the difference between good stress and bad stress.

What does each one feel like?

Good stress can feel like excitement. You might experience a surge of hormones and a quickened pulse, but you won’t feel fearful or as if your life is in danger. Examples of this kind of stress are the butterflies you feel in your stomach on a first date, the pulse-pounding excitement you experience on a roller coaster, or your nerves before a big game or job interview.

Bad stress feels differently in your body. It can leave you feeling jittery, anxious, confused, and exhausted. It can even make it hard to concentrate and lead to decreased performance.