Stress Can Be Good For You *If* You Do This!
We all want to live happy, stress-free lives, right?
We often connect feeling happy with not feeling stress; however, the internal war on stress is actually misguided. Hot take: Stress has its upsides! According to Kelly McGonigal’s The Upside of Stress, stress can be helpful if perceived as beneficial. If we see stress as potentially enhancing our mental state, we can become more resilient, energized, productive, focused, and healthier. Stress can be an asset if we frame it positively, and can give us more energy, focus, and better performance.
Assuming we view stress as helpful, the more significant dilemma for maintaining a high level of performance is the lack of recovery. For our prehistoric ancestors, stress was an instinct developed in the fight for survival; today, it is quarterly results, deadlines, and sales goals, many of which are self-imposed. In the past, humans had more time for recovery, but today we have little recovery time because the expectation is that we are “always on.”
Recovery Is Key
Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, authors of The Power of Full Engagement and known for helping professional athletes achieve peak performance, found that the enemy for these athletes is a lack of disciplined, intermittent recovery. The best-performing athletes typically have a light workout a day before an event and take a day or more off after events. The body and the brain need time to relax and recover. Recovery is part of nature and essential to building strength and habits in a healthy way, whether physical or mental.
How does this translate for those of us who are not professional athletes but work in corporate America? Successful, happy people add periods of recovery to their day. We typically develop our most creative ideas after relaxing and letting our minds wander. It’s important to take breaks throughout our workday, have lunch with colleagues or friends, and build a social life outside work. We need to feed our minds and bodies by making exercising and eating healthy priorities. And, of course, we need to get plenty of sleep.
The Bottom Line On Stress
As an innate reaction, stress is not bad for us — it can motivate us and keep us focused. It is the negative perception of stress and the lack of downtime for our minds and bodies that become detrimental to our performance and health. Manage your stress with the right mindset and set aside downtime to be at your best. To paraphrase Thomas Moore, the Irish poet, and writer, It is important to be ambitious, productive, and efficient, but these qualities don’t necessarily nurture us. We need downtime for reflection, conversation, to have fun, and daydream. Like any animal, there is a ryhthm of rest and activity.