Dynamic Interactive AdaptabilityYour guide to promoting growth, resilience, and wellness in turbulent times

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Good stress bad stress

A vital point that is mostly missing from contemporary dialogs is that stress is not necessarily bad; in fact, stress is vital for the survival, development, and growth of biological systems (Bertalanffy, 1972; Capra, 1996). Just as effectively managing conflict requires understanding the difference between functional and dysfunctional conflict, dealing with stress may require distinguishing between different kinds of stress and reactions to stress.

Selye (1956) echoed the ancients when he called stress “the salt of life.” Differentiating between stressors and stress response, Selye proposed that either a positive or a negative event could trigger the same stress response, which either helps or harms the system. He identified two fundamental kinds of stress: distress and eustress. Distress is stress that can harm the system if managed incorrectly and tends to be the focus of contemporary stress dialogs. Eustress is the result of positively interpreting experience and working through challenging situations. Eustress can strengthen the system by providing motivation, focus, and energy that helps people to achieve goals, adapt to and influence their environments, and succeed in life.

Selye (1956) considered change as a perpetual reality and celebrated that the essence of humanity is the ability to think creatively about and grow from stress. Selye argued that stress could have positive consequences, should not be avoided, and results in death when it is absent. In other words, the father of contemporary stress research reinforces the ancient wisdom. Unfortunately, many who have come after focus only on the dysfunctional aspects of distress without balancing dialog with the functional aspects of eustress and properly managed distress. Contrary to the killer disease label, Selye concluded that stress is vital for the existence, survival, and development of a system. Efforts to eliminate or reduce stress can ultimately be more harmful than developing the capacity to cope with reality.

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