Stress reframe: Make stress your friend

If you are growing your business, working to deadlines and taking on challenges, then you are experiencing stress.

And if you are in business and you’re losing market share, incurring losses and building debt then you also have stress. How can you avoid it, really? Business = Stress.

Everywhere I look, people seem to be more stressed than ever.
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Business Leaders tend to encourage stress because of their desire to push boundaries. They want to dominate markets, set higher standards, change operations, and generally disrupt the status quo.

Reframe stress as a good thing

Today the real challenge is not how to avoid or eliminate stress. Rather, the challenge is to learn how to manage our stress. Better yet, how to use stress to your advantage. Or even better, to reframe stress so it is perceived as a good thing rather than something to fear!

Your attitude towards stress may be the difference between life and death – literally. So now may be a good time to reassess your beliefs.

“Make stress your friend.” That’s the message Kelly McGonigal is promoting. In her recent TED Talk (September 2013), Dr. McGonigal,  an award-winning professor at Stanford University, encourages us all to change our attitude toward stress.

She backs up her argument with research that clarifies the positive effects of oxytocin. Oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone” as it is known amongst nerdy scientific circles, is circulated throughout the body during the classic Stress Response, also known as the “Fight or Flight” response.

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Once the perception of a threat is dealt with, oxytocin has two main functions. Firstly, it helps the heart repair tissue resulting from the stressful activity. Secondly, oxytocin causes us to reach out for connection with other people. We reach out to share our understanding of the threat thus building our collective wisdom. We also reach out to give and receive comfort. We begin to relax and deepen our relationships with other people.

McGonigal refers to a 2013 study lead by MJ Poulin at the University of Buffalo, NY. This study followed a group of people (846) who were tracked based on there response after a very stressful event. Those that did not reach out to help others after their stressful event had a higher mortality rate than the population average. Those who did reach out had no increase in death rate. So reaching out matters and oxytocin, the cuddle hormone circulated during a stressful moment, contributes to that resiliency.

In 2012, a study led by Abiola Keller, a Health Psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, determined that those people who had both high stress and believed that stress was bad, also had a higher likelihood of dying. More interestingly, those who had high stress BUT believed stress was making them stronger, had no increase in mortality.

McGonigal sums it up in a simple message:  If you think stress is bad for you, it will kill you. If you think stress is making you stronger, it will make you stronger and you will live longer. She urges us to see stress in this progressive light.

Transforming stress into strength

I like McGonigal’s argument and I’m willing to accept the idea that stress can make us stronger. We can become resilient, wise and more committed to our community. Our heart becomes stronger physically too.

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In sports, I often see teammates hugging and cheering for one another. While their sport may be stressful, they have reframed this stress into something enjoyable.

Can we take this back to our board rooms?

Next time you are off to work, can you choose to see stress as a way to make you stronger, tougher, more caring and better over all? Can you give someone a hug if they are feeling down? Here’s the big one: Can you allow yourself to receive a hug when you are feeling stress?

I hope this information about reframing stress is helpful. If you have additional thoughts on this topic please write a comment or send me a note. I really want to know how you reframe stress. Are you aware of your stressors? Can you see stress as a way to get stronger? Are athletes emotionally more resilient because they train themselves to be mentally tough during times of adversity?