FACING FEARS: Eustress VS. Distress – And how your interpretation may be holding you back from success.

Can YOU tell the difference between Eustress and Distress?



When you think of people that are the best, the most successful – what do you think of?

Maybe a CEO that gives speeches to thousands of people. A president. What about an athletic star such as Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, Alex Honnold – who excel seemlesly under pressure?  Or a musician such as Hilary Hahn, who can play an entire symphony from memory on stage?


51st+Annual+Grammy+Awards+Pre+Telecast+Show+buPXBiyhmcpl alexcosmic

So often we look at these people and think, wow that is amazing, I could never do that. But why not? What is holding YOU back from being the most successful at whatever your want to be? When have you backed out of an opportunity due to fear or stress?


I recently read a fellow coach’s post about getting out of his comfort zone. For him, taking on PiYO as a fitness instructor was a major step into a new teaching arena of choreographed group exercise… a far cry for any triathlete. But he did it anyway. He taught his first PiYO class last week – the only guy in the room. And he did it anyway. And guess what – he ROCKED it and felt accomplished.

This is something I see so many times in leaders, and I think it would be safe to say this is an attribute of ALL of them. They don’t let fear stop them from reaching out into those areas that don’t feel perfectly safe. Ok, lets try not safe – at ALL. They might even feel like they are diving into dark murky water.

Who knows what’s going to happen?


It is these people – the ones that reach higher than they can see, leap into uncharted waters, TAKE RISKS and usually end up surprising themselves (and everyone else!) that inspire me. I feel so thankful for those people I hope to be able to inspire others one day as well. And I think I’m moving in that direction one step at a time. You should start your own Dauntless List if you have a chance. It will encourage you and give you some goals to work towards.

Example –

1. Times I’ve faced my fears –

2. Fears I want to overcome –

Last weekend I surpassed a HUGE milestone. I lead my first route outside – and it was 5.7 hand crack on TRAD (Laughing Crack, Squamish, B.C.) If you are not a climber you might not understand this – but just know, it is not for the faint of heart. I couldn’t believe that I did it!! But – I did!!


(That’s me – tiny speck up there…)

Want to move past some of your own fears and be able to take on more stress effectively? You have to understand it first….


There are some psychological explanations for this feeling of wanting to run away from stressful situations. And why you should feel comforted.

It is our natural tendency to want to stay safe and avoid stress. (Duh! Right?) The only issue with this is that not ALL stress is BAD. And not all FEARS are ones that should get you running back to your cave full of comforts. Not saying you won’t want to though! Trust me, I’ve been there!

Even worse, is the talk we hear about these two types of stress. As you probably already learned back in grade school, there are two types of stress: eustress and distress. What IS distressing is how they are explained in such a subjective manner. If you google these terms and look at photos it is pretty hilarious. Everyone seems to have their own definition of what equals eustress and what equals distress.


(Ok, what? Excited is distressed? I’m confused!)

What we hear many times is that eustress = positive stress and motivation, while distress = negative feelings, anxiety. But can you tell the difference? Really? Think about right before a job interview, audition or public speaking – how do you feel? Do you consider this eustress or distress?

According to many of these definitions I would consider this BAD stress. My heart is racing, my muscles are tensing up – I’m freaking out! I just want to go home. This is when your adrenaline starts to be produced through the hypothalamus in the brain. This is your “fight or flight” mechanism. What you choose though – is up to you. Are you going to be a fighter, or are you going to run away?

I think men more often than women, are taught from a young age that running away from fear is not an option. They train their bodies to react positively to stressors. But anyone can do this. (You’re going to have to! It takes practice!) That’s right – you have to train your body to react positively to stress. This will also expand the amount of stress you can take on and still function called your stress threshold.

So how do you train your body to be able to take on more stress and not crumble under the pressure?

Just start small. Many people look at me like I’m all brave because I rock climb and teach fitness classes and do other adventurous things, but the truth is I’m NOT. And any other person that is confronting a fear with any ounce of humility will admit they ARE afraid or even downright terrified of what they are about to do. Yet, it is how they react and interpret this fear that makes a difference in the outcome. Climbers know how much the mind plays a role in the outcome of a situation. Every climber is scared when pulling a tough move 100 ft up, but do you let the fear paralyze you, or do you let it propel you?

“When you consciously realize that you’re excited, not anxious, about an upcoming challenge, you give your body keys to how it should receive and interpret the symptoms you are feeling.”

– drjacksinger.com

Want to crush that interview or do that thing you’ve always wanted to but are too afraid?

Here are some good tips that have helped me along the way.

Steps for overcoming fears, getting out of comfort zones and training your body to “Fight” not “Flight”.

1. Get over yourself – yep that’s right. Stop thinking that people are judging you all the time. It’s not about what people think about you, it’s about what you are trying to convey to others or accomplish. (And even if they are – who gives a F anyway?) This is especially helpful when getting up in front of people or for an interview.

2. Assess. Next time your body gets afraid/tensed up ask yourself if the fear is justified. Am I in a dark alley at night alone? Yes, fear is justified. Have you been working on a lecture for 3 months, have it totally memorized and are completely prepared? This fear is not justified. You GOT THIS. And if you’re still scared, remember step 1!

3.  Just Do It. Nike got that one right! This can be said in a million different ways. “Put your big girl panties on.” Stop making excuses. JUST TRY. Don’t wait around for a better day, because that day will never get here. GO!

4. Breathe. Realize that you are excited. This is normal. Deep breath. And come up with a little mantra to help you. One of mine is, “I will not let fear paralyze me. Keep moving.”

5. Enjoy. Trust me. Once you pop – you can’t stop! If you start facing your fears, you are going to feel a rush like you’ve never felt before, and you will feel accomplishment like you never have either. And even if the first time you try, you fail, get back up and try again. I will spare you the stories for now, but trust me I have plenty of stories where I was completely embarrassed and felt beat down. But once again – don’t become paralyzed. Keep moving. Or – as Dorey would say…”just keep swimming, just keep swimming….”

Don’t pass up the chance to watch this inspiring video chat with Steph Davis on fear, and moving past it.

Steph Davis: Fear // Inside Game Episode 2 from Prana Living on Vimeo.


One comment on “FACING FEARS: Eustress VS. Distress – And how your interpretation may be holding you back from success.

  1. […] good example of eustress is exhibited in a person who just got hired for a new job. There lie the daunting new […]

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