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Stress – The Enemy?


By Amy Simmons PT, TPS

A co-worker suggested a TED talk, which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design.  This particular talk is from Kelly McGonigal about stress and after watching it and reading a little from her book,  I wanted to share some of what I learned from this Stanford psychologist.   I love it when new things fit into my framework of wellness, pain, and PT.  Here’s the scoop.

Ms. McGonigal reports she has spent many years telling patients about the evils of stress and helping them look for ways to try to eliminate it in their lives until recent research changed her mind.

It is not the stress in your life or the amount of stress that matters. What matters is your mindset about that stress.  If you believe you are capable of dealing with stress and you can view stress as helpful in some way, you will have better health, emotional wellbeing, and increased productivity even if you are under high stress.

Why would it matter what you think about stress?  One reason could be that when people only think of stress as harmful, they may cope in ways that are not so good:  procrastinating to avoid stress, excessive drinking as a means to release stress, or imagining worst case scenarios.

If you try to avoid stress, you have increased risk of depression, divorce, and losing your job. Part of that may be because of increased use of harmful coping strategies.

Contrast the above with viewing stress more positively and coping in ways that help you grow and thrive.  This group tackles the source of stressors, looks to others for support or finds meaning in the stress.

McGonigal teaches people 3 protective beliefs regarding stress.  

  1. View your body’s stress response as a helpful and not debilitating energy
  2. View yourself as able to handle, and even learn and grow from stress in your life
  3. View stress as something that everyone deals with and not something that proves how uniquely screwed up you or your life is

These two opposites can be true at the same time.  The same stressful experience can make you sick and depressed.  It is also true that it can make you stronger, more productive, more compassionate and more resilient.  

Looking at your beliefs is a powerful place to start.  Our brains are wired to protect, are very plastic (changeable) and if you can change your brain you can change your life.

Here’s to the stress in your life!


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