The Surprising Benefits of Stress


Ah, meeting planning, the stress-free career! You host a few brainstorming sessions, chat up a vendor or two, casually stroll through a conference here and there, and home by 5.

Yeah, right! If there were any justice in this world, the face of a harried meeting professional would grace every over-the-counter headache, indigestion and sleep aid on the market.

What’s stressful about meeting planning? A better question would be, what’s not?

Fortunately for the frenzied, scientists recently stumbled upon a rather mind-blowing discovery: stress is actually good for you. Really.

According to Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, author of “The Upside of Stress,” everyday stress turns out to be something of an internal wonder drug that bolsters your immune system, fires creativity and pumps up your productivity.

The key, according to recent studies, lies in how we view stress. Subjects who viewed stress as harmful increased their risk of early death by as much as 43 percent, while those who embraced stress as beneficial were less likely to die prematurely than people who reported little or no stress in their lives whatsoever.

Here are five ways to turn stress to your advantage and curb stress that may be avoidable.

Stop trying to relax: At the first sign of clammy palms or butterflies, abandon the detrimental fight-or-flight survival response that the cavemen needed, and instead recognize them as your body’s signal that you are up to the task at hand and ready to move forward with confidence. While schedule delays or burnt hors d’oeuvres trays can prove inconvenient, they’re rarely fatal.

‘Friend’ your stress: When you think about it, stress is a meeting planner’s chief form of job security. Embrace it as a friend. After all, your ability to recognize and resolve stressors is what sets you apart from the crowd. And admit it: on some level, you probably enjoy stress, if only for the laughter and camaraderie it often inspires.

Put your stress to work: Now that you’ve made friends with your stress, what’s next? Research shows that the cascade of neural events caused by stress temporarily diverts us from second-guessing and overthinking, thereby creating the perfect headspace to practice the piano, perfect our backswing or enjoy a workout. In fact, doing so can increase blood flow, lower blood pressure and generate pleasurable endorphins, thus – voile! – relieving our stress. When stressed, don’t just stew – do!

Embrace procrastination: What?!? Follow me here: now that we’ve accepted the positives of stress in our workday, it’s also important to face the scientific fact that too little stress can make us sedentary and uncreative. Scientists suggest that delaying the start of a project can help us stay in that stress/creativity sweet spot by generating just enough pressure to generate the neural responses that improve energy and focus.

Limit your e-vailability: A 2014 study published in Computers in Human Behavior found that it’s not the number of e-mails piling up in our inbox that’s stressing us out; instead, it’s our habit of incessantly checking for them. That’s right: constantly being available has become a constant everyday stressor. The study found that subjects who read and responded to e-mail just three times per day immediately sent that stressor packing.

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Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald is an award-winning journalist, author and blogger who incorporates humor and human interest into a broad range of topics. Follow him on Twitter @omnisaurus

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