Good Stress vs Bad Stress: How To Know The Difference

In a world where everyone is focused on the negative aspects of stress it’s good to know that there is more than one type of stress and that it can actually be a good thing under the right circumstances.

Good stress is called eustress. Good stress, in small doses can provide the motivation to move forward and helps with attainment of goals. Good stress can help children to rise to challenges, resolve problems, and build confidence; ultimately good stress promotes self-fulfillment, happiness and ultimate success.

Good or normal stress might happen when a child is called on in class, when a child is about to run a race in sport or when riding a roller coaster. Good stress is characterised by butterflies in the stomach or sweaty palms and is usually of short duration. Typically, it’s the kind of stress that helps us get things done.

Bad stress is also called distress. This type of stress, when present in excessive doses, can affect the way a child thinks, acts, and feels. Bad stress happens when stressful feelings keep going over an extended period of time.

Children may feel stressed if their parents are fighting, if a family member is sick or if the child is having problems at school, such as being bullied. That kind of stress isn’t helpful and, if it’s allowed to continue without intervention, can eventually lead to health problems.

In all stressful situations, the body activates a ‘fight-or-flight’ response, resulting in a burst of adrenaline facilitating increased focus, strength and alertness. Once the child learns how to recognize a stressful situation, the child can begin to make good decisions when managing stress.

How Parents Can Help:

  • Be aware of your child’s behaviors and emotions and, in order to build trust, be available and open to talk when your child is ready;
  • Support the expression of feelings by teaching and modeling good emotional responses;
  • When adverse family circumstances are a contributing factor, parents should answer questions honestly and calmly. Make sure your child is aware of anticipated family changes, provide information in an age-appropriate way and reassure your child that the family will be okay;
  • Don’t hide the truth from your child. Children can sense when parents worry and fear of the unknown can increase anxiety. Avoid discussions in front of children in situations where events or circumstances discussed might be stressful;
  • Encourage physical exercise, good nutrition, and adequate rest;
  • Teach your child how to problem solve;
  • Monitor television programs that could create unnecessary worry in children. Pay attention to the use of computer games, movies and the Internet;
  • Help with your child’s selection of appropriate extracurricular activities and take care not to over-schedule;
  • Make your child aware of the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol before experimentation begins;
  • Parents should contact the child’s teacher if they have concerns about stress levels at school and should seek professional advice when stress levels continue to be a concern.

Good stress can become distress when children are unable to cope or when they lose faith in their ability to meet the challenge. The solution is to recognize the problem and then adapt or change behaviour in order to turn bad stress into good stress.

Sources: ScienceNorway; KidsHealth; National Association of School Psychologists.

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