by Kathi Szabo

Stress. We all experience it at one point in our lives. But let’s look at two different points of view.

The first, stress is harmful. That stress blocks our growth. It worsens our health and should be avoided at all costs due to its negative effects.

Now, the second point of view is that stress is helpful. Stress enhances our growth, improves our health, and can yield positive results, helping us become the person we want to be.

Which one do you agree with more? Which one rings true for you?

Before you decide, let’s look at stress as…

A Mathematical Equation.

Let’s say that Stress = Pressures – Capacity

A simple equation.  If we think of stress in this way, there are only two ways to successfully manage your stress, increase capacity or reduce the pressures.  This can make easing stress seem a bit more simple.

But let’s look at four different scenarios.

First, let’s say we have low pressures and high capacity. That would equal a low-stress level.  But we also find ourselves bored and unengaged. When we have no challenges, no pressure to complete a task or learn or develop, but we have the energy, the space, and the time to do it, we crave something more. So low pressure, high capacity is may not bring stress but it does bring apathy and indifference.

Now let’s look at low pressure and low capacity. Here we are on autopilot. We’re going through the motions. There’s no pressure but we don’t have the energy to do anything anyway. This is the hamster wheel of mediocrity.  We don’t feel stressed. We’re not necessarily bored, but we are uninspired. We lack passion. This type of situation can lead to depression.

So, what about high pressure and low capacity? Well, this leads to high pressure. To feelings of overwhelm. Too much of this can lead to chronic stress which is not beneficial.  You may be thinking the only way to reduce our overwhelm is to reduce our pressures. But as noted previously, we can also increase capacity.

If we increase capacity, that leads us to our fourth scenario, high pressure and high capacity, a state of engagement. A state of being “in the zone.” A state of working in flow. When we are so engaged in our work, time flies! We feel accomplished. In this scenario, we see stress as a learning experience, as a way to grow and develop. A way to solve a problem. This is stress being helpful.


This type of stress was coined Eustress by a Hungarian endocrinologist, Hans Selye. It literally means “good stress.”

Society, since the mid-twentieth century, has blamed many health issues on too much stress. But stress, when managed appropriately, is ultimately how we grow. How we learn new skills. How we feel accomplished.

Eustress has emotional and health benefits. It differs from distress, the term coined for bad stress, in the following ways:

  • Eustress is not chronic. It is short-lived
  • Eustress energizes and motivates
  • Eustress brings focus and improves performance

Increase Capacity

Thinking back to our simple math equation, Stress = Pressures – Capacity, we can see that whenever we begin to feel distress, the bad stress that brings overwhelm and negative feelings to our body, we have the power to move into Eustress by increasing our capacity.

But wait, what do we mean by “increase our capacity?”

It’s the same thing we mean when we say in yoga, create space.

The same meaning Dr. Dan Siegel, author of the book AWARE, gives to the purpose of meditation, to increase our container of consciousness.

We increase capacity by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. By relaxing.

There are only two states of being: powerful and primal. And these two states of being, correlate directly back to the two parts of our nervous system, the sympathetic and parasympathetic.

Our sympathetic nervous system, fight, flight, or freeze, is designed to keep us safe from mortal danger. It doesn’t create space or allow for more capacity. If anything, it shrinks capacity, reacting immediately when we are in danger such as getting out of the way quickly, without thinking when a car looks to be coming right at us. This is a good thing when we need it.

The parasympathetic, the rest and digest system, creates capacity. When we are calm we have more space to process, to look for the right solutions, to learn and grow.

To increase capacity, we find calmness. We find relaxation.

Relaxed Under Pressure

To move from distress to eustress, we have to be calm and relaxed.  You may be asking yourself, “but wait, how can I possibly be calm when I have a project due tomorrow morning. I don’t have time to be relaxed.”

I would argue, you don’t have time not to be.

In this case, do you need to fight? Who would you need to fight with? Yourself? Fighting with yourself or someone else is not going to get the project completed any quicker.

Do you need to flee? Is fleeing, leaving your work, walking away, going to accomplish anything?

Do you need to freeze? Stop working? Definitely not!

So, it seems pretty obvious that the sympathetic nervous system here, or a primal state, is not going to help us get the project done.

But, if we can calm ourselves, move into a powerful state, engage the parasympathetic nervous system, we create space to think openly. We can find new ideas. Search our brain, our goal-achieving machine for answers and ideas. This is the capacity we need to move us to eustress.

Now, if you are wondering how to increase your capacity? Well, one suggestion is to join me for our Winter Retreat on Saturday, Feb 19. And there is also a pop-up Full Moon Yoga Nidra, on Wednesday, Feb 16. Both will help prime your being to relax more.

But if you are looking for some “in the moment” resources, ideas to get you out of distress and into eustress at the moment you are experiencing it, to find calm when you feel like your in the middle of chaos? Check back next week! I’ll be sharing some useful tips anyone can use!