Published on 05/15/23

Is it good stress or bad stress?

By Jennifer Dunn
Senior farmer leans against garden tools looking worried
Bad stress feels overwhelming, like a pileup, and long-term stressors can lead to negative health effects. Help reduce stress by taking care of your physical health and talking to a trusted source.

Now that April and Stress Awareness Month has come to a close and we have moved well into Mental Health Awareness Month, I thought it would be a good time to talk about the difference between good stress and bad stress and how they affect your mental health.  

Good stress

Some stress can be good — it is what I describe as “what motivates us to get up and go to work and take care of one another.” You need some awareness and worry in order to remember to pay your bills, take the kids to school/sports/extra-curricular activities, do tasks and chores on time, etc. Otherwise, things may go undone/unfinished. So some amount of stress can motivate you and help you fulfill responsibilities, which can lead to a more fulfilling and happier life.

I’ve recently asked a lot of people, including many of the farmers I work with, to describe types of good stress and examples I’ve been given are having a baby, planning a vacation, buying or remodeling a house, moving, starting a new job or project at work. These are all things that many folks want to do and are even excited about it, but nevertheless experience some amount of stress through the process. This kind of stress is typically short-term but ultimately can be beneficial as it allows you to focus your energies on a specific goal or task.

Bad stress

So how about bad stress? Well, that is the kind of stress that feels like a pileup. It may make you feel jumpy and anxious and can be harmful to your health. It can also lead to confusion, decreased concentration and feeling bad overall. When I asked those same people to give me examples of bad stress, they described relationships that are strained, financial difficulties, concerns with their job or workplace issues, and untreated medical or mental health challenges. These stressors can be either short-term or long-term. Long-term stressors can lead to negative health effects such as headaches, anxiety, high blood pressure and insomnia.

What it boils down to is this — stress becomes problematic when it takes over your life. The key to managing it is identifying what in your life you deem as bad stress and figuring out ways to manage these things in a healthy manner. For many, the difference between good stress and bad stress is how we feel about it and what we do to address it.

Managing stress

So, are you feeling stressed — bad stress? Do you have someone you can talk to — a friend, neighbor, faith leader or therapist? Just reaching out and talking with a trusted source can reduce your stress. And while it seems intuitive, it is important to remember to eat well, stay hydrated, get good sleep and get up and moving. 

I also recommend committing to deep breathing exercises at least twice per day (no more than 10 minutes total) and finding ways to reduce the bad stressors where and when possible. These are all things each one of us can do to help manage our stress levels and have a better quality of life.

Visit the Thriving on the Farm site from the Rural Georgia: Growing Stronger initiative for stress assistance and other resources from University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

Jennifer Dunn is a rural health agent for UGA Extension.