The Upside of Stress

man in black shirt and gray denim pants sitting on gray padded bench
Photo by Inzmam Khan on

Ask anyone ‘how they feel about stress’ and they’ll probably look at you weird then repeat the question back to you, “how do I feel about stress??” It’s assumed we all feel the same. Stress sucks! Plus, it’ll kill you! Unfortunately, this is true for some. But the good news is, it doesn’t have to be true for us! In fact, exciting new research is showing that stress is not only good for us, it increases our longevity and makes our lives more meaningful! I know, it sounds like wishful thinking. It isn’t.  Kelly McGonical, in her fascinating book, “The Upside of Stress,” transforms everything we thought we knew about stress. Study after study shows the importance of stress in living a fuller, more meaningful life. Those who see stress as a friend helping them endure, achieve and take meaningful leaps in their life live longer more fulfilling lives. The key is mindset and how they view stress in their life.

For years, I dreaded the uncontrolled, unknown future. That is, the future. I imagined worst case scenarios and pre-experienced how I would respond (freak out) when they inevitably came true. I dreaded their coming, but deep down wanted them to happen just so I could move on. This negative mindset kept me in a state of generalized anxiety as I lived my life with this awful program running in the background. Never in the moment I missed out on years of good living, trying to control the uncontrollable and prevent the normal cycle of life.  As uncomfortable as it felt, I was still able to run my business and live my life, I just didn’t feel fulfilled.

Things changed in 2017 when I lost both my Dad and best friend one month apart. In this, I was exposed to my 3 greatest fears. Disease, death and the knowledge that there was nothing I could do to stop any of it. As a control freak, I had always assumed I wouldn’t be able to handle it when these inevitable moments came – but a curious thing happened. I did. In fact, my mindset changed. Rather than freaking out, in these tragic moments my mind identified with something greater than myself and I was transformed. I learned the key to handling our greatest fears is stopping the selfish over-identification. Here I was pre-worried about how I would handle this stress meanwhile my Dad and Brock, who were actually dying, were handling the stress with courage and grace. When they died, I grieved the loss of these 2 great men in my life but through their deaths learned a new truth.

The key to overcoming stress is to stop trying to overcome it. It’s like trying to overcome the weather. Stress is inevitable and its here whether we like it or not so we must change the way we relate to it. When we fight stress or try to escape it, we will only find stress has increased its intensity. Resist it long enough and we’ll find ourselves sick more often and ultimately on track for a shorter life. But… if we do the unthinkable and embrace stress, not as big scary STRESS, but as a normal state and energy source we need to meet any challenge, overcome any obstacle and handle any situation, we will be transformed in the moment and experience a strength and fulfilment we never thought possible.

The Upside of Stress? It could save your life.


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