The Upside of Stress

I grew up with a stress-prone Mom. She was not stressed all of the time, but in certain situations, she would lose it. I have memories of her driving pedal to medal to get us to school on time, losing her cool when drive-thru employees forgot to put ketchup in the bag with the french-fries, and breathing loud and fast when her three teenage girls were getting out of hand (understandable of course).

After I graduated from university, I began my career in hospitality sales and marketing. From the age of 24, I had monthly and quarterly quotas to achieve. These numbers grew year after year and the pressure increased as I was promoted into manager and director roles and led sales teams. I have always had a very negative relationship with stress. I understood that it caused increased blood pressure,  made it difficult to get a good night’s sleep, affected memory, concentration, and creativity, etc. I would call my Mom when I was extremely stressed at work and with life and she would say, “Tia, stress causes cancer and stress can kill you.” Thanks Mom.

So, you can imagine my shock and pure delight when I learned from Tal Ben-Shahar and the Happiness Studies Academy that there is an upside to stress! There are so many benefits to stress including the potential for increased productivity, creativity, achievements, etc. I have positively reframed the word of stressed to stretched. Stress pulls us and pushes us forward. It challenges us to accomplish more and act under pressure. Humans have always had stress. What we have got progressively worse at is recovery after stress. Artificial light, media, and technology play a role in this, but so our choices.  

There are micro, medium, and macro ways that we can recover from stress and become stronger after. After a stressful morning, we can go for a walk, listen to music, stretch, talk to a friend of coworker, or listen to a short guided meditation. After a stressful week, we can ensure that we get 8+ hours of sleep each night, spend 1-2 hours exercising each day, and go spend 4-6 hours in Mother Nature. After a stressful quarter, we can take a vacation or staycation, go on a wellness retreat, spend a lot of time with our friends and family who bring us joy, and truly pause to take care of ourselves and re-boot. Stress is not the enemy. Our current enemy is our lack of recovery.

Alia Crum out of Stanford executed a fascinating study of a group of high pressured wall street bankers. She separated the group into two groups and showed the first group a video of all of the negative aspects of stress. She showed the second group a video explaining all of the positive aspects of stress and how it supports you. After 3 and 6 months, the second group of bankers were more productive, their immune system was stronger, and they were more financially successful. She had positively reframed their relationship with stress!

Be stretched, it is good for you. Remember to recover after and know that you are moving forward and getting stronger

Tia Graham