Stress is something we tend to avoid or reduce. We see stress as something negative, something that makes us weaker by apparently reducing our memory or our cognitive capacity. You remember this presentation you did in front of the class or this interview for a job you really wanted to have?
Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Standford University shows in her book “The Upside of stress, why stress is good for you and how to get good at it” that stress can be good if only we could embrace it. She told for years and years to her patients and students that stress was bad, that they should try to reduce stress as much as possible, that it could provoque health issues, that it was in fact the enemy.
Till she red a new study about stress that suggested stress was bad mainly because of the way we are looking at it.
“This is my body helping me rise to this challenge”
In fact, people looking at stress in a positive manner, following this study, had lower risks of being injured or die, even compared to people experiencing less stress. Poeple dying prematurely from stress are not dying from the stress self but from the belief that stress is bad for them.
When we experience stress, we experience its signs (hart beat, faster breathing, sweat,…) as anxiety that shows we are not very good at managing what is triggering the stress (presenting in front of a big audience or being interviewed for instance).
What if we were reframing our views on stress? What if we were telling ourselves that stress is a sign that our body is preparing itself so that we give our best performance for the task at hand ? What if we could see stress as an indicator that what we are going to do next is very important to us and so we really want to give the best of ourselves to make it a success?
So, what we think about stress does matter and has an influence on our body.
Studies show that even physical reactions from people looking at stress in a positive manner are very healthy. The example taken by Kelly McGonigal in her TED talk is the blood vessels that are not constricting when you think about stress in a positive manner, while it is when you see stress as a threat.
Stress as a productivity tool
I am a big fan of Getting things done, the art of stress-free productivity by David Allen. I implemented this method since January 2014 – I know it because it was my resolution for this year. I have had many opportunities to test it in different environments, having changed of responsibilities several times since then. And even if I still recommend to read the book and implement most of its methods, I am becoming more sceptical about the stress-free part of the title (and other aspects too).
Why trying to have stress-free productivity method when we know that stress can, in fact, be something very positive for us? Of course, when we are overwhelmed by – continuous – stress, we need first to relax i.e. in this case to come back to an acceptable level of stress. But stress can be a very good internal indicator and help us, among others, to prioritise.
When I have a lot of things to do, stress often helps me decide what to do first. And our subconscious mind knows sometimes better than our conscious mind what should be done first. So now I learn to let stress “express itself” in me, and take it as something positive, trying to understand what my subconscious is trying to tell me when it is sending me some physical stress messages. I consider them now as indicators and part of my ressources that help me achieve my mission.
I am curious : What about you? How do you consider stress in your life? As a support or a threat?
If you consider Stress as a threat, why not trying, next time you feel it, to reframe its meaning and tell yourself :“This is my body helping me rise to this challenge”
Have you tried it? Feel free to leave me your feedback in the comments, I am curious about your experience!