the upside of stress

The upside of stress

the upside of stress

This time last month, I was experiencing the amazing 99u conference in New York City. I have been reading the 99u blog for many years now and it was a dream come to true to be able to attend the conference in person. There were a couple of speakers who I didn’t think were fabulous, but the rest all made me think, challenged my status quo and made me want to make changes.

While the conference is aimed at who people who they like to call “motivated makers and doers” there was much anyone could take away from it. Over the next few weeks I will share a couple of sessions which, I think are relevant and helpful.

The upside of stress was a presentation by Kelly McGonigal, PhD. Kelly is the author of a book by the same name – The Upside Of Stress. I loved this presentation for a few reasons:

  • Kelly McGonigal was a switched on, smart and confident speaker.
  • It confirmed beliefs about stress that I had.
  • It proved to me again the power of mindset.

Her session started with a discussion of a study “Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality.” (Keller A1, Litzelman K, Wisk LE, Maddox T, Cheng ER, Creswell PD, Witt WP.). As I am not a science type and I did not want to misrepresent the study, here is some information from the abstract which shows it isn’t so much the stress itself which has a detrimental impact on our health and well being, but how we view stress:

This study sought to examine the relationship among the amount of stress, the perception that stress affects health, and health and mortality outcomes in a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults.

33.7% of nearly 186 million (unweighted n = 28,753) U.S. adults perceived that stress affected their health a lot or to some extent. Both higher levels of reported stress and the perception that stress affects health were independently associated with an increased likelihood of worse health and mental health outcomes. The amount of stress and the perception that stress affects health interacted such that those who reported a lot of stress and that stress impacted their health a lot had a 43% increased risk of premature death (HR = 1.43, 95% CI [1.2, 1.7]).

High amounts of stress and the perception that stress impacts health are each associated with poor health and mental health. Individuals who perceived that stress affects their health and reported a large amount of stress had an increased risk of premature death.

McGonigal also shared a study which highlighted the stress paradox – there was a direct correlation with a higher stress index, greater life expectancy and higher GDP. Her explanation was that those who had levels of stress in their lives considered their life to be meaningful. McGongigal contends that the best prediction of a meaningful life is stress. She challenged attendees to think about the day before and asked us did we experience stress?

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And how did we view the stress? Did we see it as negative or positive?

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Most people tend to view stress as negative and McGonigal challenged us to change our mindset and view stress as something to embrace.

I do have stress in my life, but have felt that stress has been there because I am challenging myself and trying to improve. There are many situations where I embrace stress in a positive mindset. A looming deadline, will see me harness my energy and focus to meet it. When I undertake public speaking, I do get quite nervous and stressed in the lead up, but I know that the nerves and stress are good as it means I care and as I step on to the stage to present I use the energy of the stress to give my presentation energy. As family issues develop and cause stress, I see it as a trigger to make change and solve the problem. Change rarely happens unless we feel uncomfortable.

But there are also times when I do let stress get to me. Negative conversations start running in my head and the negativity then seems to grow. While I am not about to start intentionally adding stress to my life, I am going to work on being more conscious about the mindset I have towards stress. Embrace it more positively and allow it to work for me more.

McGonigal has a TED talk on this topic which you can see below. It is worth a watch and only goes for 15 minutes:

If you are reading via email and cannot see the video, click here.

Do you have stress in your life? If so how do you view it?