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Can Stress Be Good?

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Can Stress Be Good?

Can Stress Be Good?

Ask any entrepreneur if they live with stress and chances are almost certain they will answer yes–maybe even, “Hell yes!”

If you have embarked down the path of starting your own company, or just find yourself steeping in stress, how do you do what you are doing and prevent it from hurting your health, your relationships, or your overall enthusiasm for life?

You have no doubt heard the terror of high stress, especially sustained over long periods of time:

  • Higher health issues
  • Reduced mental capacity
  • Errors in judgment and decision making
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of sex drive

The list of troubles associated with stress are long and growing. Yet, what if it isn’t the stressful events, people and things in our lives that we need to “manage” but our reaction to them?  Kelly McGonigal, Stanford PhD, goes so far as to say stress might actually be good for us in her book The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It. 

One of her tenants is that how we perceive a stressful situation is as important as the level of stress it brings. Do you see an obstacle or an opportunity? Does stress make you feel overwhelmed or focus your attention and energy to succeed–even at levels you might not if you were not motivated?

Most importantly, one of Kelly’s chapters focuses on how meaning is rarely found in the low stress, uneventful aspects of your life; but rather, a meaningful life is a stressful life. I think this is because you find meaning in things that are important to you and are more likely to give everything you have to achieving them–often creating high stakes, and yes, stress.

This is the same reason I don’t advocate trying to create balance in your life. Most successful people are not balanced; they are inspired. People looking for balance are often bored with what consumes their days and attempting to offset their boredom through “balancing” their life with entertainment.

Some of the benefits of stress, according to Kelly are:

  • Increased focus
  • Heightened energy
  • Preparedness to meet a challenge
  • Tendency to connect with others

If inspiration equates to success and often results in stress, what can you do to gain the benefits of stress without the downside? How can you use stressful situation to become more resilient–a key characteristic of successful people?

  1. Discern whether you are experiencing stress from high energy commitments or from doing things you do not enjoy. The latter is a recipe for “bad stress” and unhappiness–change them.
  2. Stress and anxiety often come from feeling you don’t know something or cannot control it. Find the things that you can control or what you do know (or can learn) and focus on them. This puts you back in the driver’s seat.
  3. Ask for help; or at least connect with people who support you and tell them what is bothering you rather than tough it out. Feeling unsupported or alone will always exaggerate stress.

    “Your stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience — and that mechanism is human connection,” McGonigal said.

  4. Turn your energy to helping someone else. It is a miracle that works every time.
  5. Notice how many stressful situations you have encountered in your life and handled well. Self-confidence that you can and will handle your current stressors is directly proportionate to your belief in yourself!

You can watch Kelly’s TedTalk on this subject and get more tips on how to view stress in a way to create health, not hurt it!

By viewing your stress response as helpful you are creating the biology of courage and when you connect with others under stress you create resilience, says Kelly. I like that!


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