The April Monthly Review – Stress: Friend or Foe?

The April Review

Welcome to another round of the monthly review. A bit later than I anticipated…. But make yourself comfortable, grab a cup of tea, and join me as I ponder over some different viewpoints on stress.

How Do You View Stress?

Is it something to wage a war against and build up a wall of resistance? What is the difference between pressure and stress? What about ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ stress? How come some people strive on stress whilst others feel overwhelmed? I haven’t got all the answers, but the following articles and TED talk did make me ponder a little bit more on the whole concept of stress.

So let me start by giving you exhibit A – Kelly McGonigal’s TED Talk: “How to Make Stress Your Friend“. Instead of viewing stress as public health enemy Number 1, Kelly McGonigal – health psychologist – urges us to befriend our stress and see it in a new light. Yes I know, easier said than done… Personally for me, I know at times I have the tendency to shove away the discomfort and look for the path of least resistance. But that’s part and parcel of being human. It’s part our of innate fight-or-flight response; often rearing its head in the most inopportune of times. Fine if you are in the savannah being chased by a lion…. Not so much when you are about to do some public speaking….

In the TED talk, Kelly McGonigal discusses how our perception of stress can ultimately lead to different outcomes. It was reported in one study that participants who viewed their stress response as being helpful – were found to be less stressed out, less anxious, more confident and their typical stress response changed. When the heart rate was increased their blood vessels mimicked the effects seen in moments of courage and joy. His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu outline perspective as being one of the key pillars for experiencing more joy in our lives. By changing our perspective and reframing the way our mind views stress, possibly, we can impact the way our body responds to stress. And hopefully as a side product experience more joy along the way. 🙂

Did you know that fear and excitement are similar at the physiological level? One theory by Alison Wood Brooks, professor at Harvard Business School, is to reappraise anxiety as excitement. So instead of saying “I’m so nervous”, reframing it as “I’m so excited”. See it as the body rising to the challenge and channeling that energy. It’s a trick I must try!

What is the Difference Between Pressure vs. Stress?

 

“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” – Mark Twain

 

This brings me to exhibit B: Dr. Derek Roger’s – business psychologist – “Where’s TED?” article. In it he debates that rather than befriending stress, Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk is really about befriending pressure. Whereas pressure is natural –“pressure being simply a demand to perform”; stress is caused by rumination – “Stress is caused not by other people or external events, but by your reactions to them.” This rumination tends to involve excessive thinking about the past or future with the attachment of negative emotions. Analysis paralysis… I know at times I fall down this rabbit hole. Although it’s interesting to hear that high pressure doesn’t have to equate to high stress levels.

The Harvard Business Review “Pressure Doesn’t Have to Turn into Stress” offers some suggestions in how to break this stress inducing habit of rumination. Idea’s such as waking up from the automatic pilot which we so often operate from. Mindfulness comes in handy here. As mentioned above, changing our perspective can also have a big impact. Getting off the train that’s heading towards Worst-Case-Scenario-Ville. Asking yourself questions, as a means for growth and a source for reflection. Questions such as; “What have I learned from this experience?” and “What action is required here?”. Ultimately these can increase our capacity for stress resilience.

‘Good’ vs. ‘Bad’ Stress…

The first design cue B.J. Miller described when it comes to palliative care and life in general, is to “tease out the necessary suffering from the unnecessary suffering“. This statement is also true when it comes to stress. Another tip suggested in the Harvard Business Review article, is to draw a circle; placing whatever is under our control inside the circle and everything else outside. Getting to know the controllable from the uncontrollable. Accepting what is and then letting go of the rest. Again, easier said than done! But like everything in life this will be an ongoing practice and process.

I guess when it comes to the whole concept of stress and pressure, it is worth pondering over the question – Are we picking the right struggles?

 

“Go after what it is that creates meaning in your life and then trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.” – Kelly McGonigal

How do you view stress? What tips and tools do you use when facing a stressful situation?

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