Book Summary: The Upside of Stress

Isn't it true that stress is terrible for you?

As Kelly McGonigal explains in this interesting book, experts' stress research reveals a somewhat different scenario. It turns out that how you interpret stress has a lot to do with whether or not it is detrimental.

Consider the following research findings, which compare those who believe stress is detrimental to those who think stress is beneficial.

People who feel stress is beneficial are happier than those who believe stress is bad.

They are more energetic and have fewer health problems. They are more productive and like what they do at work. They also have more faith in their capacity to overcome obstacles and even find significance in tough situations.

Simply altering your perspective about what stress means to you has a lengthy list of advantages.

For the next 12 minutes, join us as we look at what stress is and how you can radically transform your relationship with it. You could even discover how to use stress to create a more meaningful and rewarding existence.

Let's dive in.

What is stress?

A  woman thinking so bad.

We must first get a clear grasp of what stress is. Cortisol and adrenaline are released by the body when you are stressed.

This stress reaction is meant to assist you from an evolutionary standpoint. However, it is more dreaded than enjoyed, much like stress in general. We've grown to think of stress as a potentially harmful condition that we should attempt to avoid as much as possible.

However, as we'll see as we progress through this book, your stress reaction is a tool to use rather than a foe to defeat.

How stress got a bad name

We're not going to spend a lot of time on this part. Basically, in the 1930s and 1940s, a scientist named Hans Selye conducted a lot of stress research that demonstrated that stress-induced harmful bodily effects.

He was dubbed the "Grandfather of Stress" and was nominated for the Nobel Prize eleven times. He dedicated his life to disseminating his findings, causing us all to think that stress is harmful.

The difficulty is that he did all of his study on rats in settings that have nothing in common with daily human stress.

A typical day in the life of one of Selye's lab rats looked like this. You'd start with uncontrolled, unpredictable shocks. Then you'd be tossed into a pail of water and forced to swim until you drowned. Finally, you'd be thrown into an overcrowded cage with other rats, where you'd struggle over insufficient food.

That isn't stress, as McGonigal correctly points out; it's the Hunger Games for rats.

Regardless, Selye transitioned from rats to people and from torture to everyday stress, and voilà - we all formed a negative attitude toward stress.

So now you have a negative mindset about stress.

According to recent studies conducted by the American Psychological Association, most Americans consider their own stress levels to be unhealthy.

These folks believe that stress:

  • it exhausts their health and energy
  • worsens their productivity and performance
  • hinders their learning and progress
  • is a bad thing and should be minimized.

People who have this attitude toward stress are considerably more likely to declare that they cope with it by avoiding it. They are more prone to do the following:

  • Instead of coping with the stress, they try to divert their attention away from it.
  • Instead of addressing the root of their stress, they concentrate on getting rid of it.
  • To cope with stress, they turn to alcohol, other drugs, or addiction.
  • They withdraw their focus and attention from the relationship, role, or objective that is stressing them out.

This, of course, promotes the idea that stress is harmful and should be avoided at all costs.

However, when we consider the advantages of accepting stress, a whole different perspective emerges.

Changing from a negative mindset to a positive one

A girl having a worklife balance.

You do, in fact, have a choice in how you respond to stress. This is what Victor Frankl called the "space between stimulus and response."

Only a small percentage of the general public believes that stress improves their life. These people think that when they are stressed, they will:

  • improve their efficiency and productivity
  • raise their health and vitality
  • polish up their learning and growth
  • be more positive.

People who have a negative attitude toward stress strive to cope with it. In contrast, those who have a positive attitude toward stress try to take advantage of it. They are far more prone to:

  • accept that the unpleasant incident has happened and that it is genuine.
  • make a plan to deal with the source of your stress.
  • look for information, assistance, or guidance.
  • take measures to alleviate, eliminate, or modify the source of your stress.
  • make the best of the circumstance by looking at it more positively or seeing it as a chance to learn.

You may transform self-doubt into confidence, fear into bravery, and isolation into connection simply by adopting a positive attitude toward stress. All without removing the source of stress. Which begs the question: how do you modify your perspective on stress?

According to the findings, you receive exactly what you anticipate. If you expect stress to be a bad experience, you will receive just that. You'll receive what you want if you expect a pleasant encounter.

There is proof for this in a variety of aspects of your life.

For example, the way you think about becoming older has long-term repercussions for you. People who have a good attitude toward aging live an average of eight years longer and have an 80% lower risk of a heart attack.

Your attitude affects you to make better decisions in the future, which leads to better outcomes. It's as if the mentality is important twice.

Now let's look at three distinct ways your new positive attitude about stress may help you live a more productive and meaningful life.

Stress helps you engage.

We'll look at how to turn danger into a challenge in this part.

Our natural reaction to stress is to avoid it, and the most specific piece of advice given when dealing with stress is to "calm down." Basically, you need to find a technique to relieve tension.

The physiology of fear may be transformed into the biology of bravery by viewing the stress reaction as a resource. The stress reaction helps you perform effectively under pressure by doing a variety of things.

It concentrates your attention, heightens your senses, motivates you, and mobilizes your energy. This is true even when the stress isn't beneficial, as people suffer from anxiety.

Remember that your pulse is beating, and your breath is speeding as your body attempts to provide you with additional energy. Remember that the stress reaction gives you access to your power when you feel tense.

Do you have sweaty palms? That's great; it indicates you're getting nearer to achieving your goal. Do you get butterflies in your tummy when you think about it? Embrace them; it's your gut's way of signaling that this is important.

Suppose you follow conventional advice and try to relax. In that case, you will be restricting yourself from tapping into the energy, power, and drive that stress provides.

Rather than attempting to settle down by taking a deep breath, take a deep breath and perceive the available energy. Then put it to good use. Consider what action you can do right now that is compatible with your aim.

Connect: How tending and befriending transforms stress.

A woman receiving an online reward system.

In this part, we'll look at how you can improve your stress management by activating your "tend-and-befriend" reaction.

We have this "tend-and-befriend" reaction to ensure that our children are protected from an evolutionary standpoint. Rather than being immobilized by fear (and allowing our children to be eaten by that lion), we take action.

It accomplishes so by increasing activity in three different brain circuits.

To begin with, it stimulates the oxytocin-regulated social caring system. You sense more empathy, connection, and trust when this happens.

Second, it stimulates the reward system, causing the neurotransmitter dopamine to be released. This boosts your confidence in your capacity to accomplish something significant. It prepares your brain for physical action, ensuring that you don't freeze under pressure.

Finally, it activates the attunement system, which releases serotonin (a neurotransmitter). Your perception, intuition, and self-control are all strengthened. As a result, ensuring that the acts you perform have the most beneficial impact.

In other words, the tend-and-befriend reaction, as McGonigal points out, makes you friendly, bold, and clever. Which is a far superior approach to attempting to avoid dealing with whatever is causing the problem.

So, if you're feeling stressed, seek ways to do something for someone else that isn't part of your normal obligations.

Fair warning: your brain will convince you that you don't have enough time or energy to complete the task. That is, however, precisely why you should.

The good news is that modest gestures are equally as effective as large gestures in eliciting this emotion, so don't wait for the right opportunity to do anything huge.

Grow: how adversity makes you stronger

We'll look at how stress may really help you learn and grow in the last segment.

The concept that we develop through hardship is not new, as McGonigal points out. Every major religion's teachings contain this concept.

Stressful or traumatic events may produce a lot of good, according to research. Here's a brief list of some beneficial improvements that have been recorded after adversity, loss, or trauma:

  • The desire to be self-reliant;
  • The ability to appreciate the beauty of life;
  • Spiritual development;
  • Improved social ties and interactions with people;
  • Assessing new possibilities and life paths.

The essential element, according to McGonigal, is that the good that comes from unpleasant situations comes from you, not from the event itself.

It requires you to think about your prior painful experiences and the wonderful improvements that resulted from them. When you're faced with difficult events in the future, you'll be able to recollect how you dealt with them in the past to assist you in dealing with them now.

This fosters a development mentality in the face of hardship.

You will experience hardship if you attempt to do great things in your life (as the fact that you are listening to this indicates). There is a lot of it.

Choosing how you'll react to it is entirely up to you. One road will lead to maturity and the attainment of your objectives. In contrast, the other will lead to despair and inaction.

There's only one choice when you consider things that way.

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