How to Turn Your Stress into Personal Growth!

Woman on red background considering response to Eustress

I’m sure you’ve come across people who choose to see every difficulty as an ‘opportunity’. Whilst this can be annoying, it’s also a great example of how we can reframe something that might otherwise be distressing into an opportunity for learning and growth—eustress.

Read more about what is eustress here >>

IMPORTANT: Do not just slap a smile on challenging, difficult or traumatic situations and call it eustress! Please seek help if your stress is overwhelming you. And if something was traumatic, or you can’t stop thinking about it, you may need or want counselling or coaching to process your feelings, heal and move forwards.

It’s all in the mind…

Assuming we’re not facing an actual life-threatening situation like coming across a bear on a nature walk—much of our distress is created by our minds.

In particular, whether something is experienced as eustress or distress depends on two key things:

  1. Our thoughts about the situation (beliefs, expectations etc.)
  2. How much agency* we think we have in any given situation

* Agency is a relatively new term to me. If it’s new to you, in a psychological context, agency refers to how much power or control we think we have over our situation.

Let’s explore these 2 Eustress factors

1) Our thoughts about the situation

Let’s use the example of public speaking.

  • For people who consider public speaking fun—or a challenge—this would be experienced as healthy eustress.
  • Yet for people who think public speaking is terrifying it will feel distressed.
A personal example of reframing for eustress: When I got nervous about going to networking meetings, I would remind myself that I loved to meet people—and that it was fun. When I focused on these positives, I found networking easier—and it became eustress instead of distress.

When we accept tough jobs as a challenge to our ability and wade into them with joy and enthusiasm, miracles can happen. Arland Gilbert

2) How much agency we have

No-one likes to feel forced into doing something they don’t want to—or aren’t ready for. Feeling powerless—or in someone else’s power—is particularly unsettling to our psyche.

Let’s use the example of a promotion (or change to our role at work) that requires more responsibility/knowledge/skill than we currently have.

  • For people who want a new more challenging role, then starting that new role would most likely be experienced as healthy eustress where we learn, stretch and grow.
  • But if we are told we MUST perform a role we don’t feel equipped for (and have no choice in the matter), we may feel distress.
An example of taking our agency back: a client a few years back (let’s call her Sarah) was given a promotion she didn’t want. Sarah was worried she’d lose her job if she messed anything up. We explored her fears and the reality of those fears—and she realised she wouldn’t get fired as the business would grind to a halt without her. In fact, if anything she held the power!

I also reminded her of several situations where she had succeeded when she did not expect to. We made a plan (and role played) asking the boss to hire someone to do her previous role, and for training in the areas she felt deficient.

Sarah reclaimed her power, and her distress turned to relief, excitement—and eustress.

Here’s a 4 Step Process to Reframe Stress into Eustress

STEP 1) Connect with your inner strength

Are you telling yourself you can’t handle it? Because when we feel distressed it’s often because we have a negative story in our head that tells us we will fail, that we can’t do it, that it’s too much for us.

So take a moment to imagine a time when you overcame a great challenge. Remember how hard it was, and how strong you were. It may have been hard, but you did it and came out the other side!

Say this affirmation: I am strong. I have dealt with other problems and challenges, and I will deal with this one too.

Tip: If this is a struggle, you can also take a moment to consider that there are other people, around the world or in the past, who have experienced something very similar and have come out the other side. And if they did it, so can you!

STEP 2) Focus on the positives

Ask yourself questions like these to reframe the situation and focus on the positives:

  • First, what fears, feelings or thoughts need acknowledging? And how likely or realistic are these thoughts and fears?
  • Now, how could you reframe this situation as something positive? Get creative and make a list.
  • What is the silver lining? What are the good and great things that could or will (eventually) come out from it?
  • What do you/could you love about this situation?
  • What parts of it could be enjoyable? And how could you focus on those more?
  • What could you do differently to make it easier or more fun?

Tip: If you can’t think of any/enough positives, is there a fabulous reward you could give yourself to focus on instead?

STEP 3) Apply Fierce Kindness

Connect with your courage, be kind to yourself and ask for help if you need it! Ask yourself questions like:

  • How could you take better care of yourself in this situation?
  • What do you need right now? What help or support could you give yourself?
  • What level of kindness do you need? (check out the Kindometer here)
  • What help or support could you ask others for?
  • Where and with whom do you need to be Fiercely Kind? (both courageous and compassionate)
  • What action will you be courageous and take?

Remember that you are strong—and that strength can also be used to support you. And be kind and gentle with the parts of yourself that are stressed, scared or worried.

In their daily life, all are braver than they know. Henry David Thoreau

STEP 4) Reflect, learn and grow

A key part of what turns stress into eustress is learning and growing from difficulty. And each time we do this we get stronger and more resilient!

We can do this right away, when we recognize what’s going on and reframe to a more positive approach. And sometimes we can only do this later—once the dust has settled. Ask questions like:

  • What are you learning/have you learned from this situation?
  • What challenges did you overcome?
  • What strengths did you use and/or develop?
  • Where did you surprise yourself?
  • What are you proud of?
  • How did this situation help you grow as a human being?
  • What will you carry forward into the rest of your life?

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do. Eleanor Roosevelt

Wrap-up Fierce Kindness Logo

What we believe (how we see something) and how we react to it (how much power we think we have) is key in determining whether we experience distress or healthy eustress.

Which means that with care, thought and considered action we can turn something unpleasantly stressful into personal growth.

So when you next face a difficult situation: 1) connect with your own inner strength, 2) focus on the positives, 3) apply Fierce Kindness—and 4) be sure to reflect, learn and grow.

Change the world. Start with you!

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Image of Happy woman pondering how to reframe her stress into Eustress by Kraken Images


  1. Susannah W. Simpson

    Thank you for this posting today on fierce kindness. All three of my siblings have been diagnosed with cancer in the last two years and I have been recovering from long Covid. In addition, I am a writer and submitting my work is always difficult because for every submission that’s accepted you get 50 rejections. So This is exactly what I needed today. Thank you. Susannah S

    • Emma-Louise Elsey

      Dear Susannah, it sounds like you have had a tough time lately (and ongoing). Thank-you so much for taking the time to comment. And. I am so glad you found this eustress article helpful 🙂 Love Emma-Louise x


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