The Gift of Stress

Man should not try to avoid stress any more than he would shun food, love or exercise.
Hans Selye

How would you feel if I told you that all of the stress you feel in your daily worklife is a gift? You would probably roll your eyes, mumble some colorful explainatives and walk away. But wait! What if I told you that if you accept the gift, you may not have to experience that particular stressor again?

Stress Defined

Stress has several meanings: a) to put emphasis on; b) the physical pressure, pull or other force exerted on one thing by another put another way c) a physiologic reaction by an organism to an uncomfortable or unfamiliar physical or psychological stimulus. Biological changes result from stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, including a heightened state of alertness, anxiety, increased heart rate, and sweating.
Mash these meanings together and simplify the language and you get:

stress – a reaction to something uncomfortable that needs my attention

So if I pay attention to it – in the right way – I can relieve the stress? Yes! You see, if you didn’t pay attention to it you would not be able to reduce the uncomfortable stress and it would continue to nag at you creating work-life angst (as well as negative health issues over time.) Therefore experiencing stress helps us to recognize something that needs our attention and is therefore a gift.

Turn Stress into Insight

So how do I eliminate stress? How do I turn that stress into a state of calm? You don’t. The opposite of stress is not calmness or relaxation but rather insight. This is what noted author and Wharton School Executive Education faculty member Andrew Bernstein found.  Andrew has developed an approach called ActivInsight to help transform stress into insight.  The foundation of his approach is that stress is not caused by external factors but rather by our mistaken thoughts about those circumstances (perception is reality?)  His technique helps to provide you with an alternative perspective to your underlying belief of the situation giving you stress. He claims that stress is when you are ‘unknowingly believing something that isn’t true’ You can read about his seven step program in this Psychology Today post.

The stress we feel is important for us to move forward. Without something pushing us out of our comfort zone, we would not grow, learn, or develop as leaders in our organizations. In this way too, stress is a gift. The key is to recognize the cause of the stress and decide what to do with it!  Take responsibility for what is going on. You can take control of your reactions, your thoughts, and your actions. You can not control other people! So if you have lost your job, you can be stressed or you can do something about it (see don’t fear the pink slip).

Get Help

Challenging your beliefs is very powerful. It is helpful to go through the ActivInsight or any thought changing process with a coach to ask those powerful questions,  help you challenge your thoughts, and help you recognize shifts in perspectives and their impact on your work-life.

Further reading:

The Myth of Stress