Stress, my old friend. I remember you from high school when the teacher plopped a new exam on my desk. From when I started a job in a new city and didn’t know anyone. I remember you from last week when I was running late for work, stuck on a subway. And yes, I saw you just five minutes ago when I pulled up my overbooked calendar and let out a sigh.
So much stress! Just thinking about it is stressful. And on top of the immediate discomfort and anxiety it triggers, stress has been associated with long-term health risks like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, inflammation, and cancer.
What can we do to stop it?
Maybe instead of focusing on stopping the stress, we should embrace it. Some stress is unavoidable. But changing how we think about stress and how we relate to it is what can make all the difference.
That’s what Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal suggests. She explains:
Viewing stress as harmful leads people to cope in ways that are less helpful, whether it's getting drunk to "release" stress, procrastinating to avoid stress, or imagining worst-case scenarios. One study found that simply having the goal to avoid stress increased the long-term risk of outcomes like depression, divorce and getting fired, by increasing people's reliance on harmful coping strategies.
In contrast, viewing stress more positively seems to encourage people to cope in ways that help them thrive, whether it's tackling the source of stress, seeking social support or finding meaning in it.
Maybe it’s time to get close and cozy with stress -- even befriend it a little. The less stressed we get about stress, the better. McGonigal suggests a few strategies for shifting your stress mindset:
Think of stress as a signal for meaning, not that you’re inadequate to handle the challenges in life. Trust your human capacity to transform stress into something good: compassion, hope, meaning. People who are more stressed out, who worry more, surveys show, are also more likely to say their lives are meaningful.
Shift into a "Bigger than Self" perspective. Take a few minutes to see a stressful situation as common rather than unique, that what you’re experiencing is part of the human condition.
Breathe deep, my friends, and embrace some of that pesky stress! We're all in this together.
Post by Kelly, a writer and producer in Brooklyn.