A new perspective on stress

Stress has gained a dirty name during the past decades. It’s something we talk about needing to get rid of, as if it were wholly bad. Recent research, however, is showing that stress isn’t always a threat to our well-being.

In fact, it provides many opportunities for growth. The very things that bring greatest meaning and joy to our lives are often the same activities that cause us stress. Being a parent. Work. Caring for a loved one.

People who handle stress well seem to have a particular “stress mindset.” They view stress as a challenge rather than something to be always feared. For instance, if they find themselves tense or revved up, they interpret their reaction as a sign that something important is at risk. Rather than flee from it or fight it, they get curious and look for opportunities to work with it.

Kelly McGonigal, PhD, author of The Upside of Stress, suggests this simple strategy:

  • Acknowledge the stress as a sign your values may be threatened. Know your personal signs of stress (tight shoulders, headaches, overeating). Remind yourself that you are stressed because something important to you is endangered. Are you on edge with everyone because timeliness and reliability are core values for you? Hovering like a hawk over supplies because practicality is a virtue? Or stuffing feelings to maintain precious family harmony?
  • Create a strategy for working with the stress. The hormonal responses to stress, such as adrenaline and endorphins, provide extra energy and focus. Harness those responses to help you seek information, resources, or support from others. As you make changes, look for solutions that incorporate the core values that are important to you.
  • View it as an opportunity to grow. Afterwards, reflect on what you’ve learned. Actively reviewing how you’ve handled a situation builds confidence and skills for navigating future episodes of stress in a healthier way.