Updated: Sep 5
Hello and happy Friday!
Bear with me in this blog post; it ends on a much higher note than it starts! In fact, I have some pleasantly surprising information about stress to share!
You are not going to wake up one day and find that your life is miraculously devoid of all stress.
Stress is inevitable.
So, the goal of stress management is NOT to try to avoid stress.
You might be thinking “But wait a minute. I hear almost daily about how stress is so bad for me and is the cause of all kinds of illnesses! So, how can the goal of stress management possibly NOT be to get rid of stress in my life!? Stress is bad!”
It’s true: we are bombarded with that messaging.
However, the fact is that stress itself is neither good nor bad.
Whether you are experiencing stress from receiving a new job offer or being laid off, from getting ready for your wedding or going through a bad divorce, your body responds to stress in the same way: the same hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) flood your body. It’s not like your cells confer with each other and say “Oh! Hold up! This stress is due to something good! Send out the good stress hormones, y’all.” or “Whoa! We’ve got a live one here, folks. This stress is from something bad. Give ‘er hell with the bad stress hormones!”
The body processes all stress in the same way. Hormones are hormones.
So, stress can be neither good nor bad.
Rather, it’s how we think about, identify, and process stress that can be either beneficial or harmful.
The first study to prove this was done by Whitney Witt of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Rather than try to paraphrase, I’m going to share an excerpt from a book called The Upside of Stress, by Dr. Kelly McGonigal, that talks about the astonishing findings of Witt’s study. (These findings have been corroborated by other studies since.)
“In 1998, thirty thousand adults in the United States were asked how much stress they had experienced in the past year. They were also asked, Do you believe stress is harmful to your health?
Eight years later, the researchers scoured public records to find out who among the thirty thousand participants had died. Let me deliver the bad news first. High levels of stress increased the risk of dying by 43 percent. But – and this is what got my attention – that increased risk applied only to people who also believed that stress was harming their health. People who reported high levels of stress but who did not view their stress as harmful were not more likely to die. In fact, they had the lowest risk of death of anyone in the study, even lower than those who reported experiencing very little stress.”
Let's look at that last part again.
"... that increased risk applied only to people who also believed that stress was harming their health. People who reported high levels of stress but who did not view their stress as harmful were not more likely to die. In fact, they had the lowest risk of death of anyone in the study, even lower than those who reported experiencing very little stress.”
When I first read the findings of this study, I was speechless.
Here we all are, not only feeling stressed about life but also feeling stressed about our stress because we think it’s killing us, but we can’t seem to get rid of it. In fact, we just get more of it as life gets busier and crazier. Some of us feel angry about not being able to kick stress to the curb. Some of us feel sad. Some of us feel shame about not “doing enough” to get rid of the stress. Of course, all of these responses can just lead to more stress.
It’s all pretty ugly, really.
But what I’ve just shared is a game changer.
Because, as it turns out, the way we think about stress, how we believe it is affecting us, and what we do about it are more important than the stress itself.
So, yes, stress is inevitable but… we don’t have to be victims of it!
This means we can stop fighting the stress so much. If it's inevitable, why spend so much energy trying to avoid it? Thriving in life does not have to entail trying - aimlessly - to dodge stress at all costs. We can instead funnel our energy towards something more helpful: taking control of how we respond to that inevitable stress. We can build a repertoire of healthy and productive ways to process and deal with stress in the moment to help us get back to feeling good.
I’ll leave you here, to process this new information.
But, over the coming weeks and months, I’ll be sharing ideas, techniques, and insights through my newsletter, blog, and social media feeds to help you build up your own repertoire of healthy stress management practices. If you are eager for ideas now, I’ve shared many tips and techniques that can be used for this purpose via this newsletter/blog since its inception in the Spring. Consider going back to read them now.
If you are a leader and want to help your people get better at navigating stress, contact me and we can book a discovery call to talk about my stress management program for corporate professionals.
Remember, we are not helpless in the face of stress. The way we think about stress, how we believe it is affecting us, and what we do about it are more important than the stress itself.
Thank you for reading!
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