Good Stress Versus Distress

Not all stress is bad. Most, if not all of us recognize this simple fact, and yet when was the last time you heard anyone say, “I’m stressed” with a smile on their face or joy in their heart? How can we differentiate between good stress versus distress in our lives?

Good Stress Versus Distress
Grade Level: 6-12


Character Skills
  • Caring
SEL Skills
  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management
  • Relationship Skills
  • Social Awareness
Academic Skills
  • Curiosity and Passion


  • Be kind.
  • Be compassionate.
  • Express gratitude.
  • Forgive others.
  • Be considerate of others’ feelings.

Identify and understand emotions, values, attitudes, motivations, mindsets, and personal attributes.


Regulate emotions, attitudes, and actions, and manage negative emotions and impulses.

Relationship Skills

Interpersonal and social skills to guide appropriate behavior and create positive relationships and meaningful connections . 


Assess and be sensitive to the feelings and needs of others.

Curiosity and Passion

Enthusiastic to understand more about themselves, others, and the world around them.

Share This Activity

Stress exists on a continuum, from good stress to distress. Good stress is the stress that challenges you, motivates you, perhaps even helps you focus. Teachers put their students through good stress every day by asking them to take an more challenging math problems, tackle difficult texts, and attempt new skills. It helps us grow and develop as human beings.

However, there comes a point when good stress becomes distress, when it stops being motivating and instead becomes overwhelming. It’s important for each of us to be aware of our stress at any given moment so that we know if we are being challenged (good stress) or overwhelmed (distress).

It’s also important for us to be aware of stress of others so that we can continue to care for, support, and challenge them as needed. But, recognizing if other’s are in a state of good stress or distress can be challenging. Not everyone wears their stress publicly


To help students gain an awareness of their stress, draw the Good Stress-Distress continuum (see example below) on whiteboard or sheet of paper.

Ask your students to put an X on the curve on the handout indicating their current stress level. They don’t need to explain why they are feeling that way – this activity is simply about awareness.

As an educator, coach, or parent, you can use your knowledge of students’ stress to push them further or provide support.

Growth Mindset

This activity is one of several extension activities in the Growth Mindset module of The ESSENTIALS, a resource for middle and high school students.

The ESSENTIALS modules draw upon nearly 25 years of applied research and development in various K-16 education settings, the workplace, and diverse athletic environments. Each module is a blueprint of research-based best practices for developing an essential character and culture skill needed for success in school, work, and beyond. 

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