Good Stress

No, the title of this article is neither an oxymoron nor a typo, though you might possibly have never before used a positive adjective to describe something which carries such a negative connotation.

After all, according to a 2013 “Stress in America” survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, stress:

  • Keeps more than 40% of adults awake at night,
  • Is responsible for an estimated $200 billion (yes, billion) in lost productivity for businesses annually,
  • Is a contributing factor for an estimated 70-90% of employee hospital visits.

Depending upon how stress has affected you, some of those statistics may not be surprising to you.  The good news, however, is that stress doesn’t have to be harmful (and we’re not just talking about the good “eustress” which can occur naturally).  When properly managed, stress which may typically be seen as “bad” can be both physically and psychologically beneficial.

So how do you make “bad” stress “good”?  One way you can do so is by reframing your perception of stress.  As Stanford lecturer Kelly McGonigal wrote in her work The Willpower Instinct, choosing to consciously look at physical indicators of stress in a positive light (such as a faster heartbeat or breathing rate) can lead to a decrease in anxiety and an increase in confidence.  Instead of spending your energy “turning stress into the enemy,” McGonigal discussed to a TED Talk audience that stress is only as bad as an individual perceives it to be, and that you can consciously choose to look at stress as a beneficial force.  This mirrors statements made by psychology professor James Pennebaker, who suggests that stress can be channeled into an opportunity for self-reflection which can generate a “wealth of physical and psychological benefits.”

Even without reframing stress in a positive light, simple biology makes stress useful to us.  Our brains naturally become more engaged in the presence of stress.  Furthermore, peak performance actually requires a moderate level of stress, as reflected on this chart:

The trick then is to manage your stress in such a way as to keep it within an optimal range for achieving top performance ability.

Of course, just because stress can be channeled for positive gain doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work to minimize unnecessary stress.  As this Success Magazine article points out, ways you can reduce your stress include:

  • Properly identify your stressors and addressing appropriately.
  • Eating right.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Finding time for rest and recreation.
  • Getting plenty of sleep.

In closing, while it is impossible to completely eliminate all stress from our lives, don’t let the presence of stress wear too deeply upon you.  Learn to reframe your stress as a positive influence to help you perform your best.

Disclaimer: The author of this article is not a physician.  Nothing within this article should be used in lieu of personal physician care.



Jeremiah Clark, M.A., is a healthcare IT consultant with six Epic Systems certifications.  He is also the co-owner of Appalachian Digital, a website development agency.  You can contact Jeremiah at or connect with him on LinkedIn at Jeremiah Clark.