Stress is… good?

Are you stressed?  
If  “YES”,  do you see that as good?
A couple of weeks ago I was listening to Ed Lawrence, Canadian gardening guru, when he was asked how to get a healthy 80 year old Christmas cactus to bloom.  His response: “we kill plants with kindness – a little bit of stress goes a long way in getting results”!   Then he elaborated by saying that we tend to over-water plants, whereas leaving them a bit longer between watering (stressing them) will prompt them to bloom… so stress is good.
It reminded me of one of my favourite books on stress management, The Upside of Stress, where health psychologist Kelly McGonigal writes that we feel and work better when we recognize that stress is helpful to us.  Our stress response has evolved to give us the edge in demanding situations.  She cites numerous research studies, including Keller’s findings that people with a higher level of stress have a 43% higher risk of dying…. but only in those who believe that stress is harming their health!  
McGonigal makes the case that if we look for and acknowledge the upside of stress, it influences how we cope with it in ways that can improve health and help us meet life’s challenges.
The most successful stress copers are those who can appreciate that 2 seemingly opposite things may be true at the same time:
       1.  this stress is uncomfortable and I’m feeling anxious, depressed, headaches, stomach tension, etc.
       2.  this stress is related to something meaningful in my life, 
              or dealing with this will make me a stronger and more compassionate & resilient person
The next time you feel stressed, instead of saying “Oh no, I’m so stressed out, what if it makes me sick?”,  
can you look for the upside, and get all of the benefits of stress by :  
A.  Recognizing your stress response, acknowledging the release of chemicals that  
  • provide energy
  • focus attention
  • heighten your senses
  • prompt you to connect with others
  • dampen fear and increase courage
  • restore balance and help you bounce back
  • initiate learning

      and make you more likely to cope with stress proactively by

  • accepting the real situation
  • planning a strategy to deal with the source of stress
  • seeking information, help, advice
  • taking steps to overcome, remove or change the stressor
  • trying to make the best of the situation

B.  Reminding yourself  “I will handle it”  

C.  Viewing the stress as an opportunity to learn and grow
The more you look for the upside, the more you gain the benefits of the stress response.

If you’d like to learn more on this topic, read Kelly McGonigal’s book The Upside of Stress or watch her 15 minute TedTalk

Be kind to yourself.

Keep looking for the upside of the big stresses and the little stresses, day after day.

This skill (and its benefits) strengthen with practice!  


For effective, practical stress management skills that enhance health and performance, check out the Stress Management & High Performance Clinic programs at

Kathy Somers, R.Kin, BCB


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