How to make stress your friend

Stress.

For most people even hearing the word stress makes them immediately feel stressed. The constant push to be everywhere at all times will inevitably cause you to feel stressed.

The problem is that we’ve been told that stress is the enemy and whenever you feel stress, you need to immediately find ways to make it go away… which normally causes – you guessed it - more stress! It’s a vicious cycle.

I recently had the opportunity to watch a June 2013 TedTalk by Physiologist Kelly McGonigal on the topic of stress. Before you watch, here is the synopsis:

Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.

Is stress harmful for your health?

According to a study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison asked 29,000 people to rate their level of stress over the past year as well as how much they believed this stress influenced their health – a little, a moderate amount or a lot. Over the next eight years, public death records were used to record the passing of any subjects.

The findings: People who reported having high levels of stress and who believed stress had a large impact on their health had a whopping 43% increased risk of death. On the other hand, those that experienced a lot of stress but did not perceive its effects as negative were amongst the least likely to die as compared to all other participants in the study.

What does that mean?

A very large percentage of people died because they simply believed stress was bad for you. How you think about how good or bad stress actually is for you – will dictate how stress affects your health.

So, can changing how you think about stress, make you healthier?

Science says yes.

A few key points for you to consider:

  • When you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress.
  • How you think about stress matters.
  • You need not get rid of stress – you need to change how you think about stress.

A few of my favourite quotes from Kelly:

“When life is difficult, your stress response wants you to be surrounded by people who care about you.”

“When you reach out to others under stress – either to seek support, or help someone else – you release more of this hormone, your stress response becomes healthier and you actually recover faster from stress.”

“Your stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience – and that mechanism is human connection.”

“Chasing meaning it better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort.”

One of the best points Kelly made (IMO) in this talk was from the study findings which found that no matter how you view stress – negative or positive – going after what creates meaning in your life and trusting yourself to be able to handle the stress that follows, still proved to be better for you above all else.

I hope this changes your perspective of stress, it definitely has for me. This moment forward, I’m going to be more mindful about how I react to stressful situations and change my thinking from negative – to positive.

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What amazing feats did you accomplish last week?

Friend: “How was your week?”

Me: “Well (pauses to think), ummm… amazing, actually now that I think about it, pretty amazing.”

Hold that thought…

Before I get to why this past week has been so great, I have to voice my apologies to those who follow this blog (the handful or two haha). In recent months I’ve found myself not exactly uninterested in writing, but have simply chosen to spend my time soaking up reality versus glued to technology. Spending time with friends, teaching and working out at the gym, reading and just being disconnected… in order to be more connected to my life.

It’s one of those problems us Gen Y’s face on a daily basis. Be connected, create content and share your life socially… but be careful not to be too connected.. or create too much…or share too much.. where are we supposed to draw the line?! It’s a fine line and for those of you who have mastered it, kudos to you. For those of us still searching.. don’t give up!

Switching back to this past week…

If you’re new to The PR Life, you should probably know the my day job consists of working in a high-stress, work-with-a-constant-sence-of-urgency, media relations/crisis focused, PR agency. It’s great and I love it, don’t get me wrong – but I often care too much about my job… I know, hugeeee problem to have right? Some days when you have five upcoming deadlines (three of which are past-due), three clients emailing you with requests that need attention immediately (all of whom are made to believe and feel like they are our only client of course) and a call that a crisis is just about to break for another client… you may experience your pulse start to race, your head spin and your chest tighten because you have no idea where to start.

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Okay, this may have been a tad of an over-exaggeration. The five-deadlines are usually only two… but everything else is legit!

As tough as this can be, it’s all worth it when your client’s story (that you conceptualized, wrote and pitched to the assignment editor) makes the front page of the local newspaper you secured the day before. It’s worth it when your colleagues are just as excited about a two-minute radio interview, as you are (even if the client really doesn’t understand how hard you worked as a team to make that happen). And, it’s worth it when you send over a coverage report to a client and their minds = blown. That’s amazing.

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Now let’s jump to spending quality times with friends, social commitments and second jobs.

*Raise your hand if this describes you.*

Greattttt – we’re all over-achievers. Glad we settled that. So imagine this: you see a tweet a few weeks past from a local woman’s entrepreneurial-philanthropic networking group saying: “only ONE spot left for our next all-male-staffed, hottest-bar-in-the-city, event!”

My reaction: Well, I haven’t been to a networking event in a while… and I’d have to go alone (#getuncomfortable)… sign me up!

Two weeks later I find myself chatting with a lovely young lady who I had the pleasure of meeting once over coffee nearly a year ago. We were catching up and she was telling me all about her new exciting job (which she loves) and when someone joins the conversation and asks how we know each other she jumps in “Amanda was the reason I quit my job, changed my career goals and found something I truly love. She basically changed my life.”

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Me: Ughhhh… what?

So that’s not awkward or anything to the person we just met. I’m sure they were thinking “Who the hell is this girl?”

Not only that, but the friend who insisted this girl chat with me – also met up with me this past week for a catch up. Funny enough, her and I had a similar conversation this past fall. She too decided at that time to quit her job, take time to re-align herself with her passions, travel the world and come back to land an incredible new opportunity of a job (seriously mind-blowing, congrats again lady – well deserved)! She told me that a large part of her decision was because of our conversation about being passionate about everything you do in your life. Through that conversation, she found courage to take the leap.

I am simply humbled.

Okay, let’s really talk about second “jobs”

I used quotations because my second job is really not something that I consider a job. I consider what I do with my personal time actually a gift.

How I got so lucky to find such a supportive, driven, motivating fitness community still baffles me. Over the past eight months I’ve been training at a functional fitness gym called Element Athletic. I fortunately was thrown into it while taking my kettlebell certification back in March of last year and immediately realized this place was exactly what I had been looking for, for years. Who doesn’t want to be surrounded by motivated, friendly, go-getters who enjoy kicking their own butt just as much as the next person?

*Crickets*

That’s what I thought.

As of recently, I’ve been given the opportunity to put my ass-kicking motivational teaching style to the test. Again, I’ve been blown away by the support, excitement and acceptance from my peers (many of who can out-burpee and out-pullup me like pros, I might add) – who are thrilled to get some female instruction into the already wicked culture.

Although they are appreciative of my whip-cracking motivation, I am more appreciative of the opportunity to lead such awesome, hard-working, fitness nuts (I say that in the most like-minded, endearing way of course.. as I’m one of them)! I feel selfish in some regard because the motivation, contentment and positive energy that I get out of the entire experience is something unequivocally amazing.

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So this is all great, right?

Right… so why, when my friend asked how my week was, was I about to start complaining about things I still haven’t achieved or that I still can’t do a pullup (I’m working on this and I have a plan that I will be posting about soon – check back if you want to do it with me!) or start talking about where I envision my career in three years? WHY? Because I get too wrapped up in constant pressure to do more, be everywhere at once and be further in life than where I am now. All this stress, for no reason.

I am grateful for my friend’s question because he reminded me the importance of reflection. Reflecting back to those experiences and aspects of life that make you happy is something so important that often gets overlooked, but is immensely valuable for your mental state.

So, when you’re feeling stressed or as if you have bitten off more than you can chew – think about how many tasks you accomplished in the past week. How many hurtles did you clear? How many people did you help inspire?

I bet know it’s more than you think.

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Filed under Personal Records, Positive Reinforcement, Public Relations