How Stressed Are You?
Last week, we found that stress was found to be a predictor of a meaningful life — contrary to our generally negative perception. Researchers at Yale found that this negative perception greatly decreased the quality of our lives.
So, how do we go about switching our perception of stress?
In a study, researchers had people come into a lab about to go into a job interview for the job of their dreams. In the stressful waiting area, researchers told some participants to focus how they were going to impress the interviewers. Another group was asked to think about how the job was connected to their values and to counter anxiety by thinking about why they cared about the job so much.
The ‘meaning’ group were rated higher and were found to be more inspiring and uplifting.
Similar studies have found that the way to switch our perception of stress is to embrace it by digging deep to understand why we care and, then, to recognize that a meaningful life is also a stressful life.
Stress, like adversity, is an opportunity to learn, grow and express our values. And, most importantly, to trust that we can handle the challenge.
When you’re feeling stressed out, just make contact with the paradox of stress. Recognize that stress is not a signal that there’s something wrong with you but a sign that something you care about is at stake, an opportunity to think about what you care about. — Kelly McGonigal (paraphrased)“
–Rohan, A Learning a Day
Stress is major factor in modern life. Doctors tell us it has a huge impact on both our physical and mental health.
It’s easy, then, to reach the conclusion that we should reduce or eliminate stress in our lives. There’s one small problem: it’s impossible to eliminate stress. The new research referred to in the Learning a Day blog above suggests that removing stress is not the answer anyway.
This discussion reminds me of reading “On Contradiction” by Chairman Mao Zedong when I was in school in the U.S.. Theories surrounding how to deal with stress amount to a bundle of paradox and contradiction.
Stress, according to the new research, is a necessary platform for experiencing meaningful and fulfilling lives and careers. The research suggests that evidence for this exists at an individual as well as societal level.
It is therefore not stress per se that is toxic. The key is how we relate to and process it. This is not as obvious as it seems.
An analogy might be friction*. Too much friction starts a fire; not enough means you gain no traction. Too much stress can cause someone to burn out; not enough deprives them of motivation based on meaning, which is much more powerful than motivation based on material rewards.
My primary school graduating class recently held a 50th reunion, near Chicago. I was unable to join, but I accepted the invitation to submit a short video, some photos, and a letter to classmates. One classmate put together a very nice short video of the reunion weekend and posted it on Vimeo. In reflecting on my own thoughts about those days, and listening to those of other classmates, one common theme came through again and again “Those were so much simpler times.”
One of the misconceptions I had in early childhood was that growing up would yield answers to all the big questions about life. I don’t know about other gray haired people, but I still have a lot more questions than answers.
Related to that, stress builds as life goes on, rather than tapering off. One aspect of it is temporal. One year, one month, one week, one day — they all go by much faster than they used to. The pace and tempo of everything has increased due to revolutionary progress in IT and other technologies. That means our “to do” list has a much shorter shelf life than in times past, at work or at home.
My take-away from the above blog is that our best strategy in dealing with stress is one of disciplined self-reflection. Don’t try to throw stress out with the garbage. It won’t go. Instead, regularly find some quiet time, step back and think about the source of the stressors, and how they relate to what’s really important to you, and what’s not. At the same time, work on building your self-confidence in climbing whatever mountain lies ahead.
Self-confidence is not a fixed quality in people. It ebbs and flows, and needs topping up on a regular basis.
*(In school days I did well in biology and chemistry but very poorly in physics. So, dear readers, if this analogy is scientifically flawed, please feel free to speak up!)
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