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Stressed Over Stress

Think you’re stressed out? Think that’s a bad thing? Think again!

Being stressed out is now officially in, or so I have come to understand after reading “How to Deal with Stress (And Make it Work in Your Favor)” by Zahra Barnes on the DailyBurn website.

Barnes reached her own new appreciation of stress after reading “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You and How to Get Good at it,” a new book by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., a lecturer at Stanford University.

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When it comes to stress, McGonigal wasn’t always so positive. “I made a career out of telling people stress is the enemy and they need to reduce it,” she confesses. But Hallelujah! She’s seen the light! Now, she views stress as “an opportunity to learn and grow,” and a way to build “self-efficacy and self-confidence.”

Of course, you need the right attitude. “It’s about seeing stress as a challenge rather than a threat,” McGonigal explains. And like any good little Ph.D., she has the research to back up her claim.

For example, you may be one of those old-fashioned folks who thinks that stress can have a negative affect on your health. As in killing you dead. [That is negative in most situations, but may be a positive if the alternative is an off-site ideation and bonding session run by the HR department.]

But before you conclude that stress is not healthy, consider the 2012 study that found that “stress only increased mortality when people believed it was harmful to their health. When people had a lot of stress in their lives and didn’t hold that view, they seemed to be protected against mortality.”

In other words, stress is not a health risk if you refuse to believe that constant pressure from managers who can’t be pleased giving you assignments that can’t be completed will raise your blood pressure and blow up what is left of your brain. Makes sense. After all, research from the Wile E. Coyote Institute has conclusively proved that you would be perfectly fine if you didn’t know anything about gravity and walked off a 10-story building. You’d just run in space, until you remembered Sir Isaac Newton and all the jazz about falling apples, and then you’d drop like a rock.

But you can’t argue with scientific research, right? So not knowing anything about the physical effects of stress, and not paying any attention to what is going on around you, will “protect you against mortality.”

Or, as mother always told you, “It pays to be stupid.”

Another study cited by McGonigal shows the benefits of looking at a potentially stressful situation as an “enhancing chance to learn and grow.” In fact, looking at stress as a positive can change the chemistry of your brain, reducing the production of the stressful cortisol hormones and increasing the production of the dehydroepiandrosterone hormone, which reduces stress, unless you’re in a spelling bee and that’s the word you have to spell to win first prize.

Instead of feeling stressed every morning when you arrive at your job and are suddenly struck with the realization that your employer expects you to actually do some work, look at the situation as a challenge.

Rather than utilizing your usual technique of hiding under your desk, swimming in cortisol, tell yourself that not only are you going to avoid doing even one scrap of productive work, you are going to make everyone think that you are the most productive person in the place. To succeed at this challenge, you spend the morning pretending to work and spend the afternoon pretending to polish the work you pretended to do in the morning. You even pretend to work through lunch, which shows real commitment, because everyone knows how much you like lunch. And, of course, you spend the entire day complaining about how much work you have to do, and how the Internet is too slow, and how the London office has not responded to the 25 emails you’ve sent. [Note of caution: This technique may not be effective if your company does not have a London office.]

By succeeding in this challenge, accomplishing something by accomplishing nothing, you eventually will be promoted to the kind of executive position where you don’t experience stress, you create stress. At that point, you’ll definitely have reason to celebrate.

I suggest you go all out and buy yourself a nice bottle of vintage dehydroepiandrosterone.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com.

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