Nice to Meet You, Eustress


So often in our lives, stress is portrayed as purely a negative. But Endocrinologist, Hans Selye, first coined the term -- Eustress -- which is of Greek origin, consisting of the prefix eu - meaning "good" and shortening of the Middle English word, distress to stress So... it's EU (good) STRESS (distress).

Eustress was first used as a stress model by Richard Lazarus in order to understand and begin to differentiate the wide variety of stressors.

The results showed that Eustress is a "positive cognitive response to stress that is healthy and gives one a feeling of fulfillment or other positive feelings.”

Now let’s try a little exercise.

Family. Friends, Work. Health. Pets. House. Exercise. School. Travel. Divorce. Marriage, Birth. Boss. Children. Parents. Husband. Wife. Job. Wine. Groups. Religion. Culture. Beer. Miscarriage. Homework. Weight. Ethnicity. Eating. Sleep. Disease. Girlfriend. Groups. Studying. Supervisor. Painting. Recovery. Boyfriend. Race. Sex. Playing Sports. Diagnosis. Cleaning. Gardening. Laundry. Relatives.

These words have meaning and values that are not equally shared by you or me. Yet, I bet we could find common ground. That is, I bet we could each find at least two or three or maybe even 10 things listed above for which we are grateful.

climbing with my boys

How do these words, listed above, make you feel? How do they challenge you? Are you inspired to learn and grow and make positive changes in your how you live your life?

Why should you care?

The counterpart to Eustress is stress or distress. And stress is a central issue in almost all physical and mental health issues. Stress sends damaging cortisol to the brain and science has proven that stressful experiences will, over time, actually cause a neurological change in the brain….causing frontal lobes, which control executive function, to disengage, which can cause changes in cognitive behavior, including:

  • Impulsivity and short-sightedness,

  • aggression, anxiety and depression,

  • ability to problem solve,

  • use of language and judgement,

  • memory loss,

  • increased rate heart and

  • stress-related diseases.

Think about the last time you found yourself unable to manage the stress in your life. How did you feel? How did your body react?

I have experienced extremely high levels of stress, lasting weeks and even months. At the time, I had trouble sleeping, which meant I was more tired during the day and lacked energy to go to the gym or play with my kids and cook healthy meals for my family. I also started to experience neck and shoulder pain and a nearly debilitating hip and low back pain. I was nervous to do things that might aggravate it, which after a few months seemed to be just about anything. Yet, the very act of sitting -- at my desk and in the car, seemed to make the pain worsen, over time. Even at night, with my body finally at rest, I tossed and turned, and was unable to get comfortable. All of this meant that I couldn’t do the things I love to do or even needed to do to care for myself, my family and get my work done.

With Diagnosis Came Relief -- or so I thought.

As the Physical Therapist shared with me on that first and only visit to his office, my joint aches and low back and hip pain were the direct result of lack of movement. I didn't understand. My doctor said that I had, "bursitis" and that I needed physical therapy.

The PT's words stayed with me for weeks.

"You're in pain because you're not strong. In order to feel better, you need to move more and gain strength. The stronger your muscles are, the less strain there is on your joints. Don't be afraid to learn to lift weights."

Our reasons to get healthier, fitter and stronger may not be the same, but I can't imagine how my life would be had I chose to hang my hat on that diagnosis and make excuses for not trying to do something about it. After about 3 months of doing the elliptical and walking and jogging on the treadmill, I signed up for a group training class. The early morning, interval style workouts that included use of free weights, ropes, bands, kettlebells was fast paced and really hard, but it was just what I needed.

Over the course of a year, I continued to gain strength and lost fat -- 30 pounds. I felt amazing, and I was no longer experiencing debilitating low back and hip pain and my neck and shoulder tension also went away. My new active lifestyle coupled with my love of avocados, eggs and other foods in their whole and unprocessed state (Want Something, Salty?) truly changed how I felt.

With my new found strength and healthier way of eating, I am far more resilient when faced with stressful situations. I know which foods make me feel good and give me energy and those that leave me cranky and feeling tired. It's hard work, but there's something truly magical about finding your stride. That is, taking your first, real and decisive step to becoming a healthier version of you. The cherry on top is when that decision doesn’t come with a hefty price tag and is made whole by how much you learn along the way.

In May, I attended the Massachusetts state clinic for the National Strength and Conditioning Association. During a lecture about how personal trainers can help clients with fat loss, Dr. Cassandra Forsythe, PhD, RD, CSCSA, said: Success is the sum of small efforts that you learn and repeat, day in and day out.

Her words really resonated with me. As a nationally certified personal trainer and behavioral health counselor, I've watched hundreds of people get stronger - mentally and physically - on their journey to better health. I would only add that of those who achieve the most: They all exhibit a relentless attention to achieving goals (no matter how small), a grit and resolve to keep going and a certain gratitude for the simple lessons that pursuing fitness provides, every day.

In good health.


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