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by Scott Zarcinas MD

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as “good” stress. It is a positive force, acting to improve our state of being and life-situation.

As stated before, Dr. Hans Selye called this kind of stress “eustress” in order to distinguish it from “bad” stress, or what he referred to as “distress”.

An example of good stress is bodybuilding. When we stress the right muscle groups appropriately through a workout at the gym, the muscles respond by increasing their tone and bulk. “No pain, no gain,” say the body-builders.

However, a bodybuilder needs to monitor the amount of stress he or she is placing on their body during a workout because it can quickly turn to bad stress and cause injury or harm.

Likewise, with any stress, part of successful stress- management, therefore, is the ability to monitor our stress and to sift the “good” stress from the “bad”. It also requires some kind of recognition that being totally “stress free” is not necessarily a desirable state of being.

Figure 1: The Human Function Curve below graphs the relationship between stress (good and bad) and performance (physically and mentally). (*Adapted from Nixon, P: Practitioner 1979.)

One of the most interesting facets of this graph is that it is entirely personal. Although it represents the limits of the human organism in general, everybody has their own individual limits for stress.

Furthermore: Zero stress = zero performance

In other words, to be 100% stress-free is to be dysfunctional!

The reason why a little bit of stress is actually “good” is because each of us has a degree of “healthy tension” in which our body and mind function throughout the day.

Figure 1: The Human Function Curve (*Nixon, P: Practitioner 1979)

At just the right amount of tension we also have a “comfort zone” in which performance is optimal, neither underworked nor overworked.

[Note: Everything in this iCourse is designed to help you achieve a “Comfort Zone” of stress and maintain it within that zone of optimum functionality.]

Yet even if “good” stress increases, functionality begins to falter. Although an initial improved output or performance may occur, the body and mind reach a “hump” where fatigue sets in.

With yet more stress, the body starts to lose coordination and the mind loses concentration. We forget simple things. We become easily irked and irritated.

And if stress still continues to be applied, exhaustion sets in and illness and disease begin to manifest.

Physical symptoms of stress may include:

  • Angina
  • Heartburn
  • Gastritis
  • Anemia
  • Recurrent infections
  • General malaise or weakness

Mental symptoms of stress may include:

  • Excessive anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Unexplained feelings of doom and despair

Finally, if stress becomes unrelenting, the body and mind break down completely. Angina may lead to a full cardiac arrest (heart attack). Gastritis may lead to ulceration and even perforation, with catastrophic hemorrhage (internal bleeding).

The mind too may break down to the point of complete dysfunction, with paranoia, overwhelming fear, psychological regression, and even, in its extreme, schizophrenic catatonia.

Chronic Stress

Thankfully, however, stress usually isn’t excessive and overwhelming. More often than not, it’s something we learn to live with over an extended period of time.

Yet living in a constant state of stress, day in, day out, month after month, year after year, also takes its toll on our physical and mental health.

Although adrenaline and cortisone have positive effects on the body in an immediately threatening situation, the body cannot cope in the long-term with elevated hormone levels.

It starts to break down, albeit gradually:

  • Arteries become clogged and friable.
  • Muscles melt away and atrophy.
  • Nerves become slow and hyporeflexic.
  • Bones become brittle and weak.
  • Vision blurs and hearing deafens.


The mind, too, is greatly affected by chronic stress. Cocooned in a state of anxiety, either fighting the threat of danger or fleeing it, it also begins to break down.

Although breakdown may not be total and completely dysfunctional, as just discussed, the commonest states of a chronically stressed mind are:

  • Dread
  • Despair
  • Depression

But do we have a choice? Or are we all destined to become helpless victims of stress?


NEXT SESSION: How To De-Stress & Prosper – 1:4 Stress: Condition & Cause

Don’t want to wait for the next session? The Empowered Living iCourse How To De-Stress & Prosper is available as a Companion Guide and ebook. Click here to view more.