Making Stress work for you
Do you want relief from stress?
How about getting rid of stress altogether?
What might that be like?
Let's say your job is to watch paint dry, no stress really, you just sit there for 40 hours a week staring at paint drying and making sure it stays dry. Surely this could be just as painful as being under stress, as boredom would consume every minute of your day. On the other hand, you probably don’t want to be the safety coordinator at the teenage chainsaw juggling tour either. Naturally, we need some stress to make our life worth living. Everyone has a different tolerance but perhaps stress can help people grow instead of being a problem.
Stress can be a positive if we channel it in the right ways and is very much an important part of life. In her book, The Upside of Stress Kelly McGonigal talks about a stress is harmful mindset versus a stress is helpful mindset.
Stress occurs when a stimulus sets off our fight-or-flight response. With that in mind, if it is a reaction, maybe we can chip away at the negative effects of stress. The real danger in stress is not in the reaction itself, but in our relationship to it.
Just like they say a panic attack cannot kill you, either can feeling stress. The secret is in taking away the power of that stress. Because stress comes across as uncomfortable, we want to be rid of it at once. We go from feeling stress as a reaction, which is a very linear and productive relationship, to the destructive loop of being stressed about stress. The danger here is that it is loop is extremely hard to get out of, and it seems to magnify.
Let's play out a real life example that shows both the stress is helpful and stress is a harmful belief system.
Pretend you are laying down to go to sleep on a Sunday Night, and think about your upcoming week, as many of us do.
“Wow what a fun weekend. It was good to see everyone from college. Oh wait, I forgot to do that report for Johnson. How could I do that? I am such an idiot! This is the third time this year I have let him down. He is going to scream at me. I might get fired. Im going to live under a bridge, I know it.”
If that is something you can relate to, let's examine the stress is helpful mindset.
Now as soon as you feel that stress come on, try to observe it and identify what you are stressed about and what you can do with it. Ideally you can just write it down, lets play thought what that might look like.
“What a fun weekend. It was good to see everyone from college. Oh wait. I forgot to do that report for Johnson. Hey stress, I feel you in my chest and I’m getting nervous. What should I use you for? Im stressed out because its an important assignment and I need to have it done by noon tomorrow. Let me look at my calendar. I only have one meeting at 10 with Kevin, maybe I can reschedule that and get in early to take care of it on time."
So instead of using stress for no reason at all and making our stress scarier, we can understand it and point it at the problem at hand. When viewing it through a more objective lens, the issue is that the report needs to be done, that is a fact and the truth. Whether I am a terrible employee, a disappointment and going to be in so much trouble are just stories I am telling myself.
If you want to reexamine your relationship with stress, I highly recommend the following Ted Talk By Kelly McGonigal How to Make Stress your Friend.