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How some workplace stress can be motivational!


Identifying the two types of stress

Most of us at some points have suffered from workplace stress; but did you know some amount of workplace stress can be motivational?

The definition of workplace stress according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 2010, is “the response people may have when work demands and pressures do not match their knowledge and abilities, adding challenges to cope.”

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other demands place on them.”

There are many reasons why workplace stress should be addressed, not only for the sake of the individual’s wellbeing, but also for the benefit of the organisation: contributing to enhanced profitability and reputation.

According to the HSE, nearly 2 million workers in Great Britain reported suffering from work-related ill health in 2022/23.

A moderate degree of stress can however help to bring focus, stimulation and even some excitement to a job, as cited by Cottrell 2019.

So, let’s unpack different sorts of stress. It is widely acknowledged that there are two types of stress: eustress and distress. Most of us will be very aware of the ‘distress’ type of stress. I talk openly about my experience of workplace stress, where I became overwhelmed to the extent that it impaired my daily functioning, causing negative emotions, anxiety attacks and fear of going to work.

Other signs of distress can include but are not limited to; a decrease in focus, and an increase in procrastination – and I know that when I observe myself avoiding tasks, I also note that my stress levels are on the rise. I have spoken about feeling like a failure and have used the term ‘a failure’ to describe myself on many occasions in the past – well until I met the leadership team at British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS), the fear of negative outcomes is probably linked with trauma that were not dealt with. 

It is important that organisations create safe spaces for the workforce to be open, to listen and more importantly hear the voice of its people and management teams to take the meaningful steps to

reduce workplace stress.

The ‘good’ stress, I refer to is called ‘eustress,’ the word was introduced by endocrinologist Hans Selye (1907-1982) in 1976; he combined the Greek prefix eu - meaning "good", and the English word stress, to give the literal meaning "good stress".

Eustress in simple terms refers to the energetic stress that makes us work better in short-term. This type of stress is positive, healthy, or fulfilling which in the short-term is manageable. Eustress can be exciting and motivating, and results delivered on the back of this provide us with feelings of achievement, happiness, and positivity.

Stepping outside my comfort zone, by embarking on an undergraduate degree at the age of 54 is a personal example of eustress, being under pressure to apply an academic mindset, being exposed to new learning opportunities, and having to complete assignments to a standard that I have set for myself. Receiving a 1st in one of my assignments was a great source of pride and bolstered my self-esteem.

Other signs of eustress include but are not limited to increased motivation where the situation motivates a move towards action that result in getting things done, it provides bursts of energy, enhances our ability to cope with stress and empowers emotional growth. In summary this short-term stress strengthens an individual, keeping them healthy and happy, providing stressors that challenges give us a feeling of fulfilment.

If you are experiencing stress and need support, there are many resources available in the UK. You can contact your GP, a mental health professional, or a helpline such as the Samaritans for confidential support.


Article written by Susan Singh Soki.


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