What is 'Eustress'?
A few weeks ago, one of our members responded to my Retirement Today article with the following comment:
“I can think of no better way to live after 65 than to be an active share investor/trader. Learning about new business ideas, especially technological inventions, is interesting enough, let alone the risk element which keeps the adrenaline flowing. Calix, Novonix, Weebit nano, Brainchip…… the list is enormous.
A psychologist once explained we humans need a bit of stress to be happy and healthy. I think he called it eustress, as opposed to distress or too much stress.”
I had never heard of 'Eustress', so I looked it up. It’s a form of stress we have all experienced; in fact, it’s the form of stress many of us enthusiastically seek. The tension and excitement that comes from skiing black runs, driving fast cars or, for me, sailing in rough seas and strong wind. It also comes from more sedentary brain challenges too, as our member suggested, from pitting our wits against the market in finding and investing in interesting stocks and waiting not very patiently for them to grow. Not much Eustress from investing in CBA but picking up PME in its early stages was an exciting risk which is still giving me a buzz as well as a nice return. MSB, with its fascinating technology, gave some real excitement but, unfortunately is now a source of stress as it struggles to recover.
The notion of Eustress raises the question of how much stress is good stress. All stress was once regarded as bad for our health, raising blood pressure, and adding to the risk of heart attacks, but times have changed. The notion of good stress seems to have been recognised around the1950s. The word ‘eustress’ is derived, I’m told, from the Greek word ‘eu’ meaning good, combined with the well-recognised ‘stress’.
I discovered that In Chinese, by comparison, the translation of ‘stress’ consists of the assemblage of two characters respectively representing ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’, both combined meaning ‘’crisis.’’ Not sure how the Chinese translate ‘Eustress’.
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Clearly, some stress is good for us. It is a survival mechanism helping us deal with threatening situations. It drives us to take on challenges in all walks of life and helps us succeed. There’s no doubt that our appetite for stress or risk-taking changes with age. I look back now at some of the things I did in my teens and early working life with an element of horror. The 140 years old run-down house we bought and couldn’t afford when we were first married. They were very big risks with the inevitable very high level of stress associated. It didn’t seem to affect my health. Would the same things affect my blood pressure and raise my heart rate to dangerous levels now? I’m not about to find out, but I still take risks both physically and intellectually, subjecting myself to ‘eustress’ and feeling stimulated and invigorated afterwards.
Excitement with investing will be understood by most members, but stress is not always good stress. We have all been through a very long period of stress with Covid controlling our lives and limiting our activities as well as posing a threat to our very existence. That cannot be described as good stress. Many people found it soul-destroying and far from exciting or stimulating. The most stressful aspects were that we had no control. We had no idea how long it would last, no real control over being infected. As older people, we saw our lives slipping away in a cocoon of health controls. We were separated from friends and family and had reduced activity levels. These are all things that are recognised as excellent ways to control stress. Clearly, stress is fine when you can switch it on and off at will.
Some reports suggest that stress (bad stress, I presume) can have a significant effect on the quality and length of life for older people. It can cause cognitive problems, including memory loss. None of us want that, so keeping up those social contacts and mental and physical activity levels is vitally important.
In looking for information about stress, I stumbled into reading about stress in materials. Google doesn’t really know the difference between people and a block of steel. The reality is there are a lot of similarities. Materials can be hardened with stress, but too much stress will take them to breaking point. We don’t want to get ourselves to that point.
One article I read suggested that older people are better at keeping stress in balance than the younger generations. Maybe we have less to stress about, or maybe it’s just experience.
Being slightly stressed but not overwhelmed seems like a recipe for a good retirement. Keep doing exciting things physically and mentally so long as you can control the stress level. Keep in mind the idea of ‘eustress’. Eat well with a nice glass of red.