Understanding “good stress,” and how it can improve your finances

The mind-money connection

Stress is a natural part of life—and it’s not always a bad thing. Here’s why some stress is healthy, and how to use it to your advantage.

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Brian Ford (00:05):

Welcome to "Money and Mindset With Bright and Brian," a podcast to help you make money moves for a happier life. I'm Brian Ford, a lover of all things personal finance, and I'm here with my friend and co-host, positive psychology expert Bright Dickson. How's it going, Bright?

Bright Dickson (00:22):

Good, Brian, all good here today.

Brian Ford (00:25):

Nice. Well, today on the podcast, Bright and I are tackling stress. More importantly, we're talking about how we can reframe our relationship with stress for the better.

Bright Dickson (00:35):

And before we dig in, if you have questions for us, whether about this episode, an unrelated topic, or a future episode idea you'd like to share, send us an email. The address is AskBrightAndBrian@truist.com.

Brian Ford (00:49):

Yep. We'd love to hear from you. All right, Bright, you ready to dive into our discussion?

Bright Dickson (00:53):

You know it. Hey Brian, when you hear the word stress, what comes to mind?

Brian Ford (01:05):

Oh man. I would say the word stress kind of stresses me out. I'm like, not even kidding. I don't even like the word. I think of kind of yucky feelings, me being agitated. Those are just a few things that come to my mind.

Bright Dickson (01:21):

Yeah. I think we're all familiar sort of with this concept of stress, and we hear it from our doctors who tell us to avoid it, which is like, whenever my doctor says that I'm like, LOL, doc, how? The media, we hear that it's rampant. We hear it at work. And generally I think we tend to believe that stress is just categorically bad for us.

Brian Ford (01:44):

Yeah. So true. And then we get stressed out about being stressed, and it can turn into kind of a cycle.

Bright Dickson (01:51):

Yep. Right. Something that's not talked about that often is the fact that not all stress is bad stress. So as humans, we experience stress naturally for various reasons. And I think there can really actually be this sweet spot between too little and too much stress. So another question for you, Brian.

Brian Ford (02:11):

All right.

Bright Dickson (02:12):

What happens for you when you get stressed? Like, give me an example that goes from stimulus to your thoughts, to emotions, to what happens in your body, to what you actually do. What does that look like for you?

Brian Ford (02:23):

Well, if it's a sudden unexpected stress, I get this weird, uncomfortable flash through my body. I don't even know how to explain it, but it's like this yucky kind of ... It emanates almost from my chest out to my limbs. And then I get uneasy in my stomach. If the stress continues, I usually get tightness in my back, sometimes a headache, and a couple times in my life when, when I've experienced prolonged stress, this is like weeks, going on, some yuckiness, I develop these weird little heart palpitations. It's super weird. But they're not painful or anything. I can just feel it in my chest. And then it takes a few weeks for them to go away. And I really have to almost go through this de-stressing process. But that's what's going on in my body.

Brian Ford (03:09):

As far as my reactions to it, I usually have two different types of reactions. One is the negative one that when it happens and I don't recognize it and I just start reacting, I get agitated. I hate to say this, but it's true, I sometimes start putting pressure on those around me. That's something that I've only realized later on in life. I'm certainly not my best self. But then there's this, I would say positive, meaning better, so I'll recognize it, I realize what's going on. And a more positive response that I have is I'll be like, OK, Brian, you've got to just breathe, slow down your breathing, take deep breaths. I wouldn't say it's meditating by the way. I try and meditate from time to time, but this is like, OK, in the moment, I'm just trying to breathe type of thing.

Brian Ford (03:56):

Stretching is good for me. And I kind of combine this deep breathing with a little bit of just stretch up and down. I like going for walks. And then a weird thing that I like to do is I like to clean. I like to organize, just small things. I know that's weirdo, but whether it's like a drawer, my car, I love cleaning my car when I'm stressed out. I think it's because it gets me away from maybe the home or the office. And then I come back, my car's a little cleaner. I feel a little bit more in control, but that's just a little bit of what's going on with me when it comes to stress.

Bright Dickson (04:27):

Yeah. Brian, thank you for sharing that. And I think those are such great examples of how it goes for us. Right? Something happens. We have some thoughts about it. Immediately the emotions come and stuff starts happening in our bodies and then we do something, right? Inevitably something comes out of it. We've got healthier ways of coping with that. And maybe some unhealthier ways sometimes too. I love that you stress clean. I sometimes stress bake. So when I'm really stressed, my neighbors start getting a lot of baked goods. But I asked so that we can get a grip on what we're actually talking about when we're talking about stress. So usually when we're talking about stress, we're talking about what you just said, right? The kind of stress that makes us feel bad. So in psychology nerd land, that's actually called distress. So for most of us, when we say we're stressed, we are experiencing distress.

Brian Ford (05:21):

All right. So we got a little nerd alert.

Bright Dickson (05:24):

Nerd alert.

Brian Ford (05:24):

I'm usually the one nerding now, but I dig this psychology nerd out. OK. So let's go down this. So why does that distinction matter? You're talking about stress, distress. Tell me more.

Bright Dickson (05:36):

Yeah. So number one, I stand as a proud psychology nerd, but here's why it matters.

Brian Ford (05:42):

Yeah. Own it.

Bright Dickson (05:43):

Because distress isn't the only kind of stress. There's also what's called eustress. So the spelling on that is E-U, which is the Greek prefix for good, if we're not all up on our ancient Greek, which I certainly am not, but ...

Brian Ford (06:00):

I am now.

Bright Dickson (06:01):

Yeah. Now we know. So it's eustress, E-U and then stress. So eustress is essentially the stress that makes us feel good. I'm experiencing eustress right now, recording this podcast. I'm engaged. I'm thinking clearly. I'm excited. There's some pressure on me, right? There's some pressure on me to perform, do this well, whatever, but I'm excited. I'm thinking rationally. I'm in it. That's eustress. So all of us experience both eustress and distress, which begs the question even a little deeper, what is stress? So you know how I like to define my terms, right?

Brian Ford (06:43):

Yeah. All right. I'll go down this definition road with you. So what is stress?

Bright Dickson (06:49):

Great. I love it. Thank you for that. So stress is the name that we have for our body's physiological response to stimuli. So something happens, that's the stimuli, and stress is the experience that we have that prepares us and activates our response to that stimuli. So no stimuli, no stress. But the world around us gives us pretty constant stimuli, and some of it we walk into ourselves, so we experience a lot of stress that makes us feel stuff. So to get even a little nerdier, we're going deep here, stress exists on a curve. So think of it like an inverted U, or like a rainbow, whatever's easiest for your brain. Rainbow works for me.

Brian Ford (07:41):


Bright Dickson (07:41):

The X axis here is the stimuli, and the Y axis is your performance, your behavior, I think we can even think about your emotional response in there too. And eustress is the sweet spot in the middle. So where that curve peaks, that area is called eustress, and it's where we feel engaged, focused, excited, maybe we get into that flow state, and that's where we hit our highest performance, at the peak. And distress is on either side of eustress. So not enough stimuli and we feel bored or apathetic. Too much, and we get anxious, unfocused, and in the extreme we burn out.

Brian Ford (08:32):

Hmm. I'm digging this rainbow analogy. First of all, when my daughter was like 5 years old, the rain just cleared up outside our house. And I came outside for a little walk and I saw a rainbow. So I was like, oh, I'm going to turn around and get Asia out here. That's the name of my oldest daughter. I was like, Asia, come outside, look at this. She came outside. The first thing she said, her eyes got really big and she's like, rainbows are real? Oh. And I was like, oh my gosh, she's never seen one before. It was like, fantastic parenting moment. Anyway. So I love rainbows. I like the idea that at the top of the rainbow, so I'm looking right at the top of the rainbow, we're getting away from math, we're talking about rainbows. That's where eustress is. And on either side of it, we got to be careful. It's either the not so good stuff.

Brian Ford (09:23):

That definition really helps me though, Bright. I appreciate that. Because I certainly don't like the bad stress. However, I've experienced eustress. You mentioned right now on this podcast. I would agree with that for me. That's public speaking. I know for some people, public speaking causes that bad stress. For me, I've done it so much now, I enjoy it, but I'm not so comfortable that I'm just chilling. I get this little bit of a ... I'm engaged, I'm focused. Like you mentioned, I get excited. I even get in a bit of a state of flow. So for me, it's public speaking, and it's good to define it so we can actually say, ah, this is what it is. So I appreciate that.

Bright Dickson (10:00):

Yeah. And Brian, one thing that you bring up from when you were saying that is that we're talking about the stress curve as a general concept, but everyone's is a little bit different, and everyone’s stimuli is different. So the concept holds overall, but really what we want to know is what's important to us. And I think it's also important to note that what we're talking about is everyday stress. And I want to distinguish that from anxiety disorders. So we are not mental health clinicians, and we encourage you to seek help with a mental health professional if or when you need it, and I'm super pro-therapy. I see a therapist myself, because sometimes I just need a little bit of help. So if you're there, go get some help. It's the cool thing to do. So Brian, I'm really curious to see how you see this playing out around financial stress in particular. So we will talk through that next.

Brian Ford (11:00):

So Bright, as you know, I've worked with a lot of people who feel stressed, or should I say distressed, I'm learning, over their financial situation for sure. And sometimes it's about something specific, like, my gosh, I'm in so much debt type of thing, but others it's just more general in nature, kind of about their finances. And we're going to get into some specific tactics that can help you implement, to improve your financial situation. But I also realize that it's as much of a mental game as it is anything else. So Bright, let's talk about how we can use some of these yucky feelings to create healthier money habits, which can hopefully reduce the amount of stress we feel overall.

Bright Dickson (11:43):

Yeah. Sounds like a plan. So Brian, let's say I'm starting to feel overwhelmed about my finances. I'm in distress. Where do I start? Where do we begin here?

Brian Ford (11:56):

Yeah. Often when we're stressed about money it's because we're being bombarded by messages. Maybe right now one of these messages might be about inflation. It might be the stock market going down. Or maybe even it's something more personal like an unexpected expense. We've all had our car break down at the wrong time. These are all real worries. However, let's step back and ask ourselves, do we have control over these outside influences? So let's take those examples that I just mentioned. Do we have control over inflation?

Bright Dickson (12:33):


Brian Ford (12:34):

No, we don't. Do we have control over the stock market?

Bright Dickson (12:38):


Brian Ford (12:38):

Uh-uh (negative). Unexpected expense.

Bright Dickson (12:41):

Uh-uh (negative).

Brian Ford (12:42):

Not really. I mean, that's why it's unexpected. That doesn't mean that you can't plan for it. And we'll talk about that in just a second, but we don't really have direct control over some of these market forces. I will say one thing that we can do, though, is we can limit our exposure to dramatic media sources. I know for me that's something I sometimes just need to separate myself from for a while and just be like, OK, little too much.

Bright Dickson (13:06):

Turn it off.

Brian Ford (13:07):

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So really the bottom line is instead of focusing on these things we can't control, let's take a deep breath. Let's focus our efforts on what we can control.

Bright Dickson (13:18):

Yeah. I think that's super important. And when we're thinking about what we can control, Brian, and what you see working with folks out there, what are the things that we can really control in our finances? Like, let's just elucidate those.

Brian Ford (13:33):

Yeah. I agree. Let's get a little more specific before I go into a few practical ideas that we can apply when we're stressed about money, I do want to encourage you to practice self-compassion. It is tough to solve money issues by being hard on yourself. So let's put some of our money mistakes in the past and let's just resolve to take one step in the right direction. So let's talk about a few of those steps. One idea is to accurately assess your situation. I think there's power in knowing where you're at. And this might look like just tracking your expenses just for maybe 30 days. Just keep track of everything. Again, there's power in knowing where your money's going. This might be getting a clear picture of your debt, as scary as it is, just write it down. Know what you're up against.

Brian Ford (14:28):

Another idea is actually calculating how much you need for retirement. I see a lot of people sometimes unnecessarily worried about retirement. It's like, look, let's get this down. How much do you need? Where are you at? So there's that first idea. Accurately assess your situation. Another idea that I like is, think about the positive outcome of your long-term financial goals. In other words, what would motivate you or get you excited about managing your finances? This might be ... I've talked to some folks where this is their children's well-being, and that idea motivates them. For others, it's a vacation that you've saved up for. That's actually a break. It's not a financial stress. It's like, OK, that motivates me. Maybe it's picturing yourself retiring fully prepared. It might be something even way more simple than that. Just simply the feeling of security and the peace that that will bring. But what this does is this can help you reframe a negative situation into a positive one.

Bright Dickson (15:29):

Yeah, Brian, it makes me think about the carrot and the stick. And if you're feeling the stick, you've got to set up the carrots for yourself. You might not get to eat the carrot immediately, but you got to have the carrot in your vision.

Brian Ford (15:41):

Yeah. Let's start thinking about carrots. All right. Tell that to my kids tonight. All right. So the last one I've got for you is one of my favorite ideas to get rid of money stress. I call it, fill the void. So think of something you don't have enough money for that causes you stress and then set up a savings account specifically for that thing. Or you could think of something you don't understand that causes you stress relative to your personal finance and learn about it. And this could be easy. This could be as simple as checking out the free resources that we offer. The Money and Mindset website, for those of you who want to check it out, it's just at Truist.com/MoneyAndMindset. We've got articles, some tools. Dig into something that you don't currently know. So this last one really is when you're feeling a little uneasy about your finances, fill the void with saved money or knowledge.

Bright Dickson (16:40):

Brian, I think that's so smart. And I love that idea of the void and the void just makes us uneasy. So do something about it. I think that's super smart. And I think it's one thing to give you guys, listeners, advice about managing your finances, especially when you have negative associations with it, and it's a whole other thing to actually put these tips into practice. So next up, we're going to talk about why it's sometimes hard for us to do the things that are good for us, and we're going to help you make a plan to overcome those barriers. So we will cover that next.

Bright Dickson (17:15):

For both financial wellness and positive psychology, understanding best practices is super important. And there are lots of ways that you can work to experience more eustress and less distress, right? And most of those are habits. Those are things we already know. So exercise, eat healthy, take deep breaths, be proactive about solving your problems, focus on what you can control, our very favorite here at Money and Mindset.

Brian Ford (17:53):


Bright Dickson (17:54):

Yes. We love it. But why is it sometimes hard for us to act on those habits that we know are really supposed to be good for us? Brian, what do you think? What are your theories on this?

Brian Ford (18:05):

Yeah, I like this idea of habits and systems. Both can be good. It's a matter of how you look at it. Some people love the idea of habits. They like the idea of when they get going and then they get into the habit of something and then it just starts to happen for them. Others really like the idea of systems. Some people think of habits as, ah, it takes a little bit of willpower to get going, whereas systems is more of a set it and forget it type of a thing. But regardless, those are things that can get us going, but it can be tough to get going. So I want to get more specific, Bright, what are some tips that we can use to overcome this being stuck in this [crosstalk 00:18:46] being stuck, whatever.

Bright Dickson (18:47):

Yeah. So Brian, you know that I love the rule of threes. So I'm going to give three tips, right?

Brian Ford (18:54):

Give it to us.

Bright Dickson (18:55):

So number one is overall stimuli management, just managing the stimuli that are hanging around in your life. And this is all about systems. And systems is the word that works for me. In some ways habits versus systems, that comes down to semantics, but systems work for me. So what we're talking about are the systems that help you stay in a condition where eustress is more likely than distress. So it's setting up ways of working, conditions so that you're more likely to get into eustress than to distress. And that's all the general health stuff, for sure. So exercise, sleep, healthy food, regular social interactions. And it's also about setting up systems that puts you into eustress. So the stuff that pushes up against your comfort zone, but not all the way out of it.

Brian Ford (19:56):

Yeah. I like this idea. You've got stimuli management. That's just a cool idea. It's something I'm going to have to think about a little bit more. And then you've got this idea of systems, and I love setting up money systems, no doubt about that. Set up a money system that really serves you, you know, again, saving automatically or even setting up a regular reoccurring appointment with a financial planner. All these types of money systems are pretty awesome. So, OK, cool. Let's dive into two and three. You said you're going for rule of three here. Give it to us.

Bright Dickson (20:29):

So the second one is listen to your body. And Brian, I will tell you, I have been on a 20-year journey of learning how to listen to what my body is telling me, and I've gotten way better at it, but it's not easy. So here's the thing, your body will give you signals that you are moving towards distress. And we know that our body gives us signals when we're already in, so Brian, you were talking about stomach stuff, maybe we get muscle tension, but there are likely the yellow flags flying before we get into the red flag territory, when we're sort of warming up to get into distress. It looks different for everybody. But each of us has our tells. So we've each got our little things. For me, it's pacing. So I know that whenever I'm pacing around the house, I'm right on the edge of moving from eustress to distress.

Bright Dickson (21:27):

And that's my signal, now that I know that pacing is sort of my flag there, that's my signal to change something up. That's my moment where I can really get in and figure out what's going on, use my tools like breathing, doing stuff to do something.

Bright Dickson (21:44):

Tip number three. As soon as you are feeling those little red or yellow flags, like my pacing, move. And when I say move, I mean move your body. So stress is a physiological experience. It happens in our bodies. We feel it in our bodies. So one great way to change that stress and to move yourself sort of back over the stress curve is to move your body. And Brian, I'll tell you, you know I've got this dog, George, he's shown up on the podcast, barking at the mailman before I think.

Brian Ford (22:20):

No, he was not barking at the mailman. He was getting stoked on our conversation about credit scores, just set the record straight.

Bright Dickson (22:28):

He is passionate about credit scores. So I've noticed George is a little bit reactive. Especially ... he'll catch a vibe from other dogs when we're out walking. And he won't go after them, but he'll definitely tense up. If that dog catches the vibe too, they might bark at each other. You might have to do some pulling. So it's like a stressful experience for George. And one of the things I've noticed that he does is after that stressful experience, he moves. So he'll do usually a big, full body shake, like a wet dog would do, that full body shake. He might yawn. He might do some stretching.

Brian Ford (23:11):

Downward dog.

Bright Dickson (23:12):

He's doing a little downward dog. And he's not doing it intentionally, but his body's sending him signals like, we need to release this stress and we do it through movement. We are not that different from my dog, George. So the advice here is move, shake it off, do what you need to do to move that energy out of your body. Instead of sitting on it, move, and that's going to help you get to a place where you can continue your walk around the block. You can make more rational decisions, which is where we want to be, especially when we're making financial choices.

Brian Ford (23:46):

Yeah. Are you literally telling me to shake? Or are you just giving that as an example?

Bright Dickson (23:51):

I'm literally telling you to shake. Yeah. I mean, I've, I've started trying it and gosh darn, do you feel silly when you do it? You sure do. But it actually does work. And I think another thing is it's just weird enough that you're now laughing at yourself. So there's that piece too, but I had a weird conversation with a family member the other day and I got up and just shook. I did a little tremble. I did. It was weird, but that's who I am.

Brian Ford (24:19):

I'm going to try it. I've never tried it. I commit to you that it, when I feel a little stressed, I'm going to... But I'm, can I call it a shimmy?

Bright Dickson (24:25):

Oh, you can call it a shimmy for sure. For sure.

Brian Ford (24:28):

All right. Yeah. I'm going to try it. All right. I like all three of those tips. Thank you. All of those ideas sound like great ways to control what you can control, which is yourself.

Brian Ford (24:47):

Thanks for listening to this episode of "Money and Mindset With Bright and Brian." To help you remember the most important takeaways from today, Bright, let's do a little recap.

Bright Dickson (24:58):

Number one, not all stress is bad stress. Get to know what good stress feels like for you and set up the conditions that help you get into that sweet spot. This can apply to anything from your finances, to work, to running, to parenting, really anything.

Brian Ford (25:15):

Number two, when it comes to your finances, assess your situation and take one step to fill that void with saved money or knowledge.

Bright Dickson (25:25):

And number three, create systems that are more likely to put you in eustress than in distress. Listen to your body. And when you do feel distress, before you move on, just move.

Brian Ford (25:37):

If you've got questions or thoughts about this topic or others, whether about your money or that's your mental well-being, we want to hear them. Email us at AskBrightAndBrian@Truist.com. Find us wherever you listen to podcasts, or Truist.com/MoneyAndMindset podcast. Check out some of our other episodes. A little while back, we talked about improving your credit score. And then another one that was super cool that I loved was teaching children good money habits.

Bright Dickson (26:09):

I loved that one. And if you liked this episode or any others, be sure to subscribe for episode alerts or share it with someone you care about. In our next episode, we're planning to talk about ways to declutter your life and finances. Hope to have you listen in next one.


Stress: Our doctors tell us to avoid it, the media tells us we all have it, and we often talk about it in our daily lives. Naturally, we’ve come to believe that stress is categorically bad for us. 

But not all stress is bad stress. Certain kinds of stress can actually help us accomplish our goals and live happier lives. In this episode of “Money and Mindset With Bright and Brian,” Bright and Brian help you find your stress sweet spot—your optimum level of stress—and give tips on managing the “bad” stress in your life and finances. 

Take a breath and tune in to learn:

  • About two types of stress—eustress and distress—and how to manage both
  • Why you should think of stress like a rainbow
  • How to turn our negative feelings about money into more positive ones
  • Why systems are the key to making the most of good stress
  • When and how to shake off your stress … literally! 


If you enjoyed this episode, we’d love for you to subscribe, or give us a rating or review! Consider sharing it with someone you care about, too.

This content does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial, or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial, or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.