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The Difference Between Good and Bad Stress

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The Difference Between Good and Bad Stress

May 12, 2014

Everyone feels stressed out at some point, but we don’t always know how to deal with it. Psychiatrist Dr. Jason Hunziker talks about how too much stress can lead to unhealthy habits, and gives you some tips for coping with stress in a healthy way. He also discusses the differences between “good” and “bad” stress and tells you how to distinguish between the two.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: What is too much stress? Is worrying too much a problem? Can you un-worry? Is there a difference between good stress and bad stress? We'll talk about that next on The Scope.

Announcer: Medical news and research from University Utah physicians and specialists you can use for happier, healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Interviewer: We're talking with Psychiatrist Dr. Jason Hunziker from the University of Utah. Dr. Hunziker, first of all explain to me what is good stress. Is there a good stress?

Dr. Jason Hunziker: I guess there's good stress. I mean there are definitely events that are positive in our lives that clearly cause stress. But I also think that there are stressors that can be considered motivating to help us accomplish our goals.

Interviewer: Some examples of that?

Dr. Jason Hunziker: So let's say you have a large test coming up on Friday. That stress makes it so you want to study so you can prepare for that test that you need to take care of.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Jason Hunziker: Now I would consider that good stress; other people would say, "Oh, that's terrible stress. I can't handle that." But I think we're all different that way.

Interviewer: So what is the definition for you of a good stress?

Dr. Jason Hunziker: I think good stress for me is something that encourages me to better myself and to motivate me to want to get up and do something rather than cause me to be paralyzed and not be able to function.

Interviewer: So I'm assuming there are benefits to good stress then, right? It's motivating?

Dr. Jason Hunziker: Definitely, I think there are always benefits to good stress. And for me stress can be motivating and make me want to be better and maybe want to improve what I'm doing. But then there are times where even just adding a little bit more stress can destroy the whole thing.

Interviewer: So there's a very good chance that the good stress can become bad stress?

Dr. Jason Hunziker: Definitely.

Interviewer: And what is bad stress?

Dr. Jason Hunziker: Well I think bad stress is anything that will impact or interfere with your life. If it doesn't allow you the opportunity to continue to improve and accomplish the goals that you have, then that stress becomes debilitating and then that leads to more complications.

Interviewer: So obviously there are two ways that you can have bad stress. One is that maybe you have too much of good stress, but generally if you're not having those kinds of stresses where does bad stress come from?

Dr. Jason Hunziker: Well I think bad stress is something that again is a definition that might be different for me than for others. But it can come even from normal daily activities that just seem to be too overwhelming. And I can give an example of that. Let's say that you're going to get married, which would be a positive event in your life, but you're also trying to go to school. You're also trying to work every day. Then you get a traffic ticket and then your significant other has a problem and falls down and breaks his leg. All of a sudden this good stress that you had that was so exciting, that was motivating you to get prepared for, you start adding all of these things up and the stress load is just too high for you to function.

Interviewer: Is there any physical health conditions that bad can come from too much stress or too much bad stress, or good stress?

Dr. Jason Hunziker: Well unfortunately stress often leads us to do things to try to alleviate the stress in a rapid fashion. Sometimes we choose to do things that aren't quite good for us, things like drinking alcohol becomes a huge problem when people get stressed. Sometimes it moves on to illicit drug use to help when they get stressed. You can also end up binge eating when you're stressed and end up hurting yourself that way. Some people actually end up in the emergency room thinking they're having heart attacks because of the intensity of the stress that they're actually dealing with.

Interviewer: So any tips on reducing the bad stress and staying healthy under stress that's good, the good way to do it; the good way to reduce stress?

Dr. Jason Hunziker: Yes, good healthy coping skills. So I think again, this is a personal choice; everybody has things that they like to do that help them refocus and calm down. Some people love to sit in front of the television and watch a movie and that just takes away everything for them and then they're good to go. Other people listen to music and they'll sit in their room listening to their iPod for a little while. Some people take a bath and that is very relaxing. Others will go for a walk and that helps them unwind and helps people rethink. I know people who end up in the gym and work out intensely and that just helps them refocus.
Eating well is going to help you de-stress, sleeping well is going to help you de-stress. So ultimately whatever it is that you enjoy doing can help you de-stress. You just have to give yourself the time to do it.

Interviewer: So it sounds like it's different for each person.

Dr. Jason Hunziker: It definitely is different. But I think that the concept is the same. We find that thing that we enjoy and then we use it to help us deal with everything else that's really causing us a problem.

Interviewer: Any final thoughts?

Dr. Jason Hunziker: I think it's really important that every day you take the time for yourself. You have 15 to 20 minutes where you sit and do that one thing that you love to do so that it helps you stay focused and helps you stay mentally well.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine; this is The Scope. The University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.