Welcome to December; raise your hand if you have experienced stress this year. Statistically speaking, you are sitting in front of your computer with your hand in the air.
Stress, ugh! That horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach, sweaty palms, racing heart and overwhelming feeling of anxiety and inability to take action. I’m pretty sure we’ve all felt that way from time to time and have worried about the long-term health effects stress can cause. We all know them, hypertension, heart attacks and even death. Experts offer many recommendations to overcome stress like meditation, yoga and even phone apps that promote a more relaxed mind and body. I’ve tried them all, but to be honest, they stress me out more. Rushing to the gym for a class, trying to make my mind blank when I have a three page “to do” list, and don’t even get me started on listening to ocean waves on my phone! Then I learned of a new technique which did not involve yoga pants or a mantra. What if we could overcome stress by simply changing our attitude? What if we embraced stress as a friend and turned it into something that could actually enhance our performance? Sign me up.
This concept came by way of a TED Talk given by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., a health psychologist who specializes in creating strategies for health, happiness and personal success. Titled, “How to make stress your friend” her theory is this: When you are experiencing the racing heart, quickened breathing and sweats associated with stress, you are actually in a physical and psychological space to do your best work. That is, IF, you have the right attitude.
Pounding heart? No problem, your body is preparing you for action, you have energy from all that adrenalin coursing through your system. Breathing faster? Good, you are getting more oxygen to your brain, which provides for focus and clear, quick thinking. This isn’t stress. This is your body helping you rise to the challenge.
In her TED Talk, McGonigal shares a study conducted at Harvard University that found that we can change our attitude and view stress as a way to enhance our performance, build confidence and even courage. After practice, McGonigal claims, your body will start believing you and your stress response will become healthier. So, with a simple change in attitude we can all be less anxious, more confident and, well, less stressed out.
After watching her TED Talk, I was curious enough to read McGonigal’s book The Upside of Stress. She outlines easy and effective techniques to become “hardier” and learn to grow from the adversity we all encounter. I have to admit that these days, I am much less focused on eliminating my stress and working on getting better at having it. Check out McGonigal’s TED Talk, How to make stress your friend. It’s a quick watch and way easier than a yoga class. https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend?language=en
Happy (stress free) Holidays.