Understanding Stress

National Stress Awareness Day, on every first Wednesday in November — November 3 this year provides people with an opportunity to think about our wellbeing and find advice or support on managing stress.  Our Employment Law and HR team believe that employers’ responsibilities extend beyond simply ensuring contracts are in place as wellbeing should also be a priority. 

Fairmont Legal is delighted to welcome Karen Openshaw – Consultant and Counsellor –  who enables and equips leaders with the skills they need to bring out the best from themselves and the team and ‘Yours’ magazine’s  ‘Inspirational Wonderwomen’ and Inspirational Woman of Bolton award recipient,.

Karen shares her insight on stress:

I think I may surprise some of you with what I am about to say …… but I think stress has had some really bad press this past few years! The reality is that having stress in our lives isn’t just natural and normal it’s vital. What do you think of when you hear the word stress? I can bet it’s not a pleasant thought!  In daily life, we often use the term “stress” to describe negative situations. This leads many people to believe that all stress is bad for you, which is just not true. Like the term mental health can mean good or poor, stress also can be positive or negative

Positive Stress is called Eustress. It is a motivator. It’s the type of stress that causes us to be excited when we experience it. It gives us an adrenaline rush.  It can help us step outside our comfort zones to solve problems or get things done. And, sometimes, it can enable us to carry out superhuman acts of strength and courage.

In actual fact, the way we perceive stress can make a big difference to the way we experience stress, positive or negative. 

So … how do we recognise Eustress

First of all it motivates us and focuses our energy. We are ‘in the zone’. 

It’s short-term.

We perceive it as within our coping abilities.

It feels exciting 

And, generally,  it improves performance. 

In contrast, Distress, or negative stress, has the following characteristics:

Causes anxiety or concern.

Can be both short and long-term.

It makes us feel overwhelmed and is unpleasant.

Decreases performance.

Can lead to both mental and physical problems and then to poor mental, and potentially physical, health

A problem arises when we try to create definitive lists of things that cause eustress or distress, because different people will have different reactions to particular situations.

So what are some ‘stressors’ which are typically experienced as negative

They are perhaps obvious …. but include

The death of a spouse, family member or friend

Filing for divorce.

Losing contact with loved ones.

(oneself or a family member).

Injury, illness or hospitalisation self or significant other.

Being abused or neglected (perceived or actual) 

Separation from a spouse or committed relationship partner.

Conflict in interpersonal relationships or issues for our children

Money Problems.

Redundancy and Unemployment.

Sleep problems. This is a big one and often a ‘catch 22’. Sleep deprivation isn’t used as a form of torture without reason. When we are tired everything feels harder.

Legal problems.

Work – which has a whole list of ‘dis-stressors’ all of its own 

Examples of positive personal stressors include:

Receiving a promotion or raise at work or beginning a new job.

Buying a home.

Having a child.


Taking a vacation.

Holiday seasons.


Further study or learning a new hobby.

And, last but not least, marriage. Though during the pandemic for those who had to postpone weddings, sometimes  more than once eustress became distress and, sadly, trying to plan a day which pleases others can also do this! 

And, of course, stressors are not always limited to situations where an external situation is creating a problem. Internal events such as feelings, thoughts and habitual behaviours can also cause negative stress.

Common internally caused sources of distress include: fears, repetitive thought patterns (I love the term ‘stinking thinking’) worrying about future events or ruminating which can lead to catastrophising (e.g., waiting for test results or workplace changes ); unrealistic, perfectionist expectations (of self or others)

And often habitual behaviour patterns can lead to distress – for instance:

over-scheduling, lack of assertiveness, procrastination and/or failing to plan ahead.

Many eustressors can become distressers depending upon things like our attitude and our current capacity. And for some people even positive experiences and situations aren’t always pleasurable. That’s because anxiety and excitement are both aroused emotions. In both, the heart beats faster, cortisol surges, and the body prepares for action. The difference is that excitement is, or should be, a positive emotion. But I know only too well, through my work, that often, especially for people that may be described as suffering some kind of anxiety disorder, even ‘good’ occasions are things to be avoided as they can evoke panic attacks, anxiety and even fainting episodes. 

I hope that sharing this gives you more of an insight into stress – the positive and the negative. I commend practising Mindfulness and meditation to you as ways to counteract the negative and to live a less ‘dis-stressing’ more de-stressed life. Learning to be in the here and now, accepting what is (and knowing that – in the words of Lady Julian of Norwich, one of my heroes of faith – “this too will pass”). 

And I want to finish with words from J.M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan “Be kinder than necessary to everyone you meet as everyone is fighting some kind of battle”. In that way you make the World less stressful for others and for yourself!”

Karen Openshaw Consultancy is based in Bolton and offers Executive Coaching, Mindfulness Workshops and Staff Listening & Wellbeing Services. Available for contact 7 days a week, find out more by contacting Karen on 0749 624 0665 or by email [email protected] .  

Or Visit https://karenopenshaw.co.uk/


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