The Upside of Stress - Deepstash
The Upside of Stress

Devin Lee's Key Ideas from The Upside of Stress
by Kelly McGonigal

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The Upside Of Stress: Key Takeaways

The Upside Of Stress: Key Takeaways

  • Stress is harmful only to those who feel it is.
  • People with a positive view of stress are happier and healthier
  • Most of the harm associated with stress may be a result of trying to avoid it.
  • You can learn to activate particular responses to stress.
  • Some stress responses foster energy, confidence and connection to others.
  • You always associate stress with something that’s important to you.
  • Dealing with stress is a necessary step in finding meaning in life.
  • Connecting with and helping others is one of the best strategies for managing stress.

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Stress Can Be Good

Stress Can Be Good

Most health experts preach that stress is dangerous. Learn to manage your stress, they say, or invite such consequences as heart disease, depression and addiction. These experts say that managing stress means reducing it, either through relaxation techniques or by reorganizing your life to lessen the pressures affecting you.

The latest science reveals that stress can make you smarter, stronger and more successful.

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Embracing Stress

Embracing Stress

Three decades of research suggest that stress offers rarely recognized benefits. These findings show stress can make you smarter, more confident and more empathetic. Stress can even improve your health. The best way to manage stress is not to fight it, but to embrace it.

Stress is what arises when something you care about is at stake. It earned a bad reputation from research on rats in the 1930s.

New research paints an entirely different picture, and most people’s daily stresses are not as severe or capricious.

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Evolutionary Stress Responses: The Mismatch Theory

Humanity’s primitive ancestors evolved the stress response in an environment far more dangerous than today’s civilized workplaces. Humans’ evolutionary responses no longer match their daily reality.

The ancient fight-or-flight response – wherein stress provokes an accelerated heartbeat, tightened muscles and the release of adrenaline – impelled early humans to either flee a predator or charge into battle. The mismatch theory recognizes only this kind of stress response, but evolution has not stood still.

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The Challenge Response

Your body is smart enough to distinguish between a lunging lioness and a looming deadline. When you face a nonlethal threat, the body can initiate the challenge response, a mix of hormones that boosts confidence, focus and motivation. You come out of these stress experiences feeling more assured and self-reliant.

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The Tend-and-Befriend Response

This response stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes emotional connections to others. It suppresses the flight instinct, giving you the courage to face the source of your stress. You become more likely to seek others’ support and to offer your support to them. Oxytocin is heart-friendly, helping the organ regenerate cells and repair “micro-damage.”

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Stress As A Resource

Stress As A Resource

The latest science indicates that, far from being a toxic goad, stress can become a valuable resource in difficult moments. The stress response enhances performance. Under stress, businesspeople hold more successful negotiations, students do better on tests, athletes become more competitive, surgeons improve their dexterity and pilots handle simulated emergencies more effectively.

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The Focusing Mechanism Of Stress

The Focusing Mechanism Of Stress

Imagine you are about to give a speech. If you’re like most people, you experience the physical symptoms of nervousness: dry mouth, sweaty palms and an accelerated heartbeat.

Conventional wisdom says you won’t perform well unless you find a way to calm down and tame that anxiety. But if you dampen that stress, you’re cutting yourself off from a powerful ally.

The symptoms you interpret as anxiety are actually the result of a challenge response. You feel more focused. Your brain processes information faster. The world even looks brighter – because your pupils have dilated.

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Defining A Stressful Situation

Stress arises only in situations that involve something that is important to you. By pursuing your values, you inevitably encounter stress. Don’t interpret stress as a sign that something is wrong. You wouldn’t expect to reach a big goal, like climbing Mt. Everest, without encountering stress. You accept that hardships are part of the challenge, and you face them because you value the goal. You won’t feel like a failure because you’re exhausted from the cold or anxious about scaling yet another ice mass. You’ll see stress as a sign of failure only when you avoid it, not when you use it.

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Don't Dodge Stress

Research suggests that trying to avoid stress may be more harmful to your health and emotional well-being than stress itself. In a Japanese study, students who tried to dodge stress experienced a diminished sense of community.

In Zurich, those students who tried hardest to avoid pressure reported a loss of focus, vitality and discipline. A US Department of Veterans Affairs study tracked more than 1,000 adults for a decade.

Those who said they tried to avoid stress reported more incidents of depression, increased discord at home or on the job, and more negative outcomes, such as divorce.

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Let There Be Discomfort

Let There Be Discomfort

Those who try to avoid stress concentrate on dulling the discomfort rather than dealing with its source. They might use unhealthy means of escape, like alcohol. They also may isolate themselves from relationships or withdraw from their careers to avoid the pressure. Such avoidant behavior increases stress and robs people of resources they could use to handle the stress instead.

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Accepting Stress

Accepting Stress

The best way to deal with stress is to embrace it and deploy it to support your effort to reach your goals. To do so, you must change your mind-set about stress. A mind-set is a “core belief,” a part of your fundamental understanding of how the world works. As in the placebo effect – in which a sugar pill produces whatever results the patient expects from actual medication – a mind-set can spark physiological or neurological responses.

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Mindset Intervention: Learn The New Point of View

Mindset Intervention: Learn The New Point of View

Present the new mind-set in a short lecture, video or reading. For instance, psychologist Greg Walton conducted an intervention to help Ivy League freshmen feel that they belonged in the student community. Walton had the students read comments from juniors and seniors about how they struggled with feeling like outsiders at first and how that feeling changed over time. 

The next steps:

  • Do an exercise that encourages you to adopt the mind-set.
  • Share the idea with others.

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Remember Your Values

The stress of daily hassles – such as long lines at the supermarket – can have the most negative impact because these stressors feel random and meaningless. Instead of appearing as challenges, they feel more like “intrusions” – stumbling blocks that prevent life from running smoothly.

When you write about your values, you see problems as more manageable and are more likely to face challenges than avoid them. Select a personal value and write a short essay about it. Explain why you find this value meaningful and describe its role in your daily life.

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Manage Your Stress Response

To manage stress, learn to trigger an appropriate or beneficial stress response. For instance, if you have to give a speech, you may feel so nervous that you trigger the fight-or-flight response. But fleeing or throwing punches isn’t the most practical way to handle this stress. People tend to trigger fight-or-flight when they believe they lack the resources – the skills or fortitude – to handle a situation

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The Bottom Line

Even small acts of kindness stimulate the release of chemicals that support confidence, focus and empathy. Purposefully do a good deed to trigger the tend-and-befriend response, and then transfer the benefits to another challenge.

By learning to manage and leverage your stress response, you will find that stress is more than just a handy resource: It is the key to a meaningful life. After all, we only experience stress about the things we feel matter most.

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IDEAS CURATED BY

devilee

Therapist

CURATOR'S NOTE

According to conventional wisdom, stress is a killer – a Pandora’s box of threats to the mind and body. Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal offers a rare contrarian look at stress based on new research that changed her mind about its impact.

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