Stress can it actually be a Good Thing?

We all experience stress!

Some people try hard to avoid it, others actually seek out the adrenaline rush and thrive on it!

Kelly McGonigal is a psychologist and author, who has done some interesting research on stress and it’s affects. In her book, “The Upside of Stress, she helps us see that too often stress has gotten a bad rap!  The general belief about stress is that it is damaging to our physical health and damaging to the quality of our lives.

However, this isn’t always the case.  Certain types of stress can actually bring out the best in us!

We perform at a higher level with a certain level of stress; we are motivated to reach out and build connections with others when we feel stressed; we have reasons to grow, mature and become wiser as an outcome of stress.

The stress response in your body has some amazing effects!  For example, the stress response can help you with focus, increase your motivation, and energize you.  It actually helps your brain grow and learn.  It can provide adrenaline and increased physical strength in times of crisis.  It increases courage.

People who live very low stress lives are often less happy than those who have a higher level of stress in their lives.  This has to do with the meaning associated with the stress.  For example, a person may feel stressed as they push themselves to prepare for a marathon.  They may feel stressed as they work hard to provide financially for their family.  They may feel stressed as they care for a chronically ill parent or spouse.

And indeed, these all represent stressful situations.  However, they also represent commitments of greater meaning to the individual.  And it’s this sense of meaning that can allow stress to have a positive side to it.  Dr. McGonigal refers to this as a “bigger than self perspective”.  I felt stressed as I added a charity fundraiser to my already full schedule.  However, I can honestly say it was one of the most joyful times in my life as I knew I was making a difference for those who needed it.

We are coming into the holiday season - a time of stress for many people!  Consider - what matters most to you in this holiday time?  What gives it meaning for you?

It may be about the spiritual significance of the season, it may be about time with family, or it may be about surviving time with family!

Maybe for you it’s about keeping it simple;  or maybe it’s about exercising your creativity in gift giving and food preparation.  Whatever it is that provides meaning for you - focus on that!  This puts a buffer between you and harmful outcomes from the stress.  Learning to see your body’s stress response as a resource can transform the experience.

As strange and paradoxical as it sounds, resisting anxiety can actually cause it to escalate.  Someone once shared a metaphor with me that I’ve never forgotten.  He said that if you are out at sea, struggling to survive in the ocean, you will drown as you flail and fight it.  However, if you imagine yourself lying back and floating on the waves you can drift safety into shore. 

Learning to accept or even embrace anxiety is not an easy task.  But, since life is filled with challenges, it seems a worthwhile endeavor!  Stress is inevitable, how we choose to perceive it is up to us! 

Would you like someone to talk to about the stress you are going through?  You don’t need to sort through it alone!  Call Kay for your free consultation!