Two kinds of stress

Stress is generally thought of as a bad thing, but it occurred to me last night that there are really two very different kinds of stress. The type which I find very unpleasant is based on fear; fear of not finishing something you are supposed to do, or in general fear of being unable to prevent an unwanted scenario. For example, “can I finish my thesis and graduate in time.”

In contrast, the other type of stress I see as part of what makes life worth living: the desire to do more than might be possible. This type of stress is proactive, based on things you want to do, and comes with excitement. I think it is part of what Cervantes means by the “impossible dream.” For example, “can I make my thesis really excellent in the time I have left.”

Stress about grades can also illustrate the difference: worrying about the negative consequences of getting bad grades vs. striving for good grades to achieve positive consequences. It’s related to the optimistic vs. pessimistic explanation styles described in positive psychology.

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