TGNTS (Too Good Not To Share) is a new series at my blog where I feature various topics that is enlightening and useful in everyday life.
No one will ever say stress is good. And no one wants to be stressed. So, I was both surprised and curious when I spotted this book “The Upside of Stress: Why stress is good for you and how to get good at it” by Dr Kelly McGonigal at the bookstore. I picked it up and read it from cover to cover. The verdict? It’s crazy and pretty convincing for me to start thinking “it’s ok to be stressed” and “might as well try to harness its power!”
To be honest, I bought this book because I think I’m easily stressed compared to others. I am so amazed some people can just do amazing things without worry that it would turn out bad. But the truth is…everyone faces stress. It’s our human built-in mechanism to help us survive in this wild wild world since the dawn of time. And since we can’t escape this reality, Kelly McGonigal proposes to turn stress to your advantage in three ways: ENGAGE, CONNECT, and GROW. In this article post, I would like to share what I’ve learned and hope that it can enlighten you in some ways.
What if we choose to avoid stress???
Avoidant coping is finding escape from feeling stress or trying to numb the response. It can have negative consequences to our health. And avoiding stress whenever we can also prevent us to fully live our lives, miss opportunities, always think you are not good enough, doing nothing meaningful, no adventure means you are limiting who you can be. Stress becomes a sign of failure, rather than proving you are just human.
Stress is only bad if you think it is.
Our mindset is powerful and is the key to alter what stress can do to your body. When we are stressed, we feel anxious, restless, and the thought that “gosh I’m so stressed now and it’s bad for my health” gets people feeling even more stressed out. You stress about you being stressed. It’s an awful circle. They did a social experiment on a group of employees by first giving them a seminar about ‘how stress is good for you’. They guide them to:
- accept that you are feeling stressed
- notice how it influence your body
- welcome stress as a respond to something you care about
- make use of the energy you that stress gave you (adrenaline, alertness, focus, etc), instead of wasting it on ‘trying’ to manage your stress
- to remember this process whenever they experience stress
A week later, a report shows the employees handle stress better, less depressed, more creative, focused and engaged in their work. You can think this is like the “placebo effect” but mindset intervention is more long lasting and powerful.
The most effective mindset intervention like this can be done in three steps:
- learn new point of view
- adopt some exercise to practice this new mindset
- share or teach others about it
Now you know the key is to change your mindset, let’s dive into the three ways ‘HOW’ to harness the power of stress!
The classic fight-or-flight response is crucial in any life or death situation. But usually we face less threatening situation in our day-to-day life, so we shifted to the “challenge response”. During challenge response, you will still have cold sweat, your heart pumping, adrenaline spikes, you feel a surge of energy gearing you up for some action!
Contrary to popular belief, people who performed great at their task did not feel calm. Athletes, surgeons, video gamers and musicians – they have the same effect of stress, they have the challenge response… they are “in the flow”. Because they have shifted their mindset to make use of that to their advantage, the stress hormone actually boost their productivity and make them perform better.
Besides adrenaline, our body release a hormone called ‘oxytocin’, also known as “cuddle hormone”. Cute name. Oxytocin is responsible to strengthen social bonds, as it is released also during hugs, breast-feeding and sex.
When our oxytocin level is high, it will prompt us to connect to another human, we trust and care more about others.
Another reputation about oxytocin is that this hormone is a chemical of courage! Oxytocin lessen fear response in your brain and suppress our instinct to run or freeze.
In short, your stress makes you overcome fear and reach out to others. Stress makes you a better human 🙂
Stress hormones like DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) actually increases the neuroplasticity of nervous system so your brain can learn from stressful experience. Contrary to the belief that stress makes you weary and need long time to recuperate, people who experience high stress level bounce back faster. After a stressful event, your brain will reflect on the incident, imagine what you could have done differently, and you gained lessons from it.
In conclusion, stress is a very interesting and weird human phenomenon – stress is harmful, except when it’s not. Stress can increase risk of death, except when people have sense of purpose; stress can increase depression, except when people are more open to reach out to others; stress can be paralyzing, except when people can see the benefit in their struggle…
Rather than we decide once and for all if “stress is good” or “stress is bad”, we can ask ourselves “Do I believe I have the capacity to transform stress into something good?”.
ℍ𝕖𝕪 𝕗𝕣𝕚𝕖𝕟𝕕𝕤, 𝕨𝕙𝕒𝕥 𝕕𝕠 𝕪𝕠𝕦 𝕥𝕙𝕚𝕟𝕜 𝕒𝕓𝕠𝕦𝕥 𝕥𝕙𝕚𝕤 𝕤𝕙𝕒𝕣𝕚𝕟𝕘 𝕒𝕓𝕠𝕦𝕥 𝕤𝕥𝕣𝕖𝕤𝕤?
𝔻𝕠 𝕪𝕠𝕦 𝕨𝕒𝕟𝕥 𝕥𝕠 𝕜𝕟𝕠𝕨 𝕞𝕠𝕣𝕖?
𝕃𝕖𝕥 𝕞𝕖 𝕜𝕟𝕠𝕨 𝕚𝕟 𝕥𝕙𝕖 𝕔𝕠𝕞𝕞𝕖𝕟𝕥 𝕤𝕖𝕔𝕥𝕚𝕠𝕟 𝕓𝕖𝕝𝕠𝕨!