I recently watched Kelly McGonigal’s TedTalk about stress. She has officially changed my view and challenged me to view stress in a different way.
Kelly followed a study that tracked 30,000 adults for 8 years. The researchers asked individuals if they were stressed and if they believed stress was harmful to one’s health; they then checked the death records after 8 years to see who died. Morbid, I know.
The people who experienced high levels of stress and believed stress was harmful had a 43% increase in the risk of dying.
The interesting part was that the people who had stress but did not believe it was bad for their health had the lowest risk of dying, even over people who had a lower stress level!
These results showed that just the belief stress was bad for you resulted in the higher risks of death, not the stress itself. This led Kelly to the question: If you change your mind about stress, can you change your body’s reaction to it?
Kelly challenged everyone; what if you viewed stress as your body being energized? If a pounding heart and heavy breathing was your body gearing up to handle the challenge before you? Rather than of viewing those reactions as signs of stress and, therefore, dangerous, we viewed them as someone preparing for battle…fully equipped!
We are all more equipped then we realize.
Another interesting fact about the body is that your blood vessels constrict when you’re stressed. This is usually where a lot of the danger comes from. However, for people who don’t view stress as bad and view their body’s reaction to stress as helpful, constricted blood vessels did not occur! They remained open, which actually mimics a body’s reaction to joy or courage! Huge difference.
How you think about stress matters!
Kelly applied this idea to work and life decisions and said, “Chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort… Go after what creates meaning in your life and then trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.” –Kelly McGonigal
This was so life giving for me to read. No longer do we have to be controlled by stressful situations. Our views on stress can change our reactions and lengthen our lives. That’s huge!
On that note I love the quote by Simon Sinek, “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.”
So another huge factor regarding stress is whether or not we are doing something that we find, for the most part, “life-giving” and not “life-draining.” Does your job bring meaning to your life? Is it something that is a passion for you? Do you work with people that add something good to your life? Instead of pursuing comfort, why don’t we pursue our passion or something that brings meaning to our lives and to the lives of others? Doing this doesn’t ensure that we will never have a hard time again or face challenges, but the meaning will provide the extra strength needed to push through those situations. As much as the world tells us more money is what we’re chasing, pursuing meaning pays much larger dividends.
One final note, according to Simon Sinek in his new book, Leaders Eat Last, “the environment in which we work, and the way we interact with one another, really matters.” He goes on to point out that it’s not just having a job with purpose, but healthy stress demands that we work in an environment where we belong and feel safe. Sinek calls this a “Circle of Safety.” For example, if people within an organization are constantly fearful of layoffs at any time in spite of great and meaningful individual performance, then unhealthy stress can dominate. That’s why at Cherwell we run a debt-free company and only hire when our cash-flow trends from our product sales indicate that we are being safe and prudent in our hiring practices. The fear of layoffs and pink slips can overcome the healthy stress that comes with working with purpose and meaning.
Bottom line: Stress can be a very good thing if understood in a positive light when working with a sense of meaning; Second, it is important to work in an environment of trust where we feel safe.