Stress can be debilitating, paralyzing, and generally bad for our health.
It can also motivate us to get organized, try new things, and push to higher levels of achievement.
Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist at Stanford, thinks we spend too much time worrying about stress and not enough harnessing it to learn and grow.
“If I am stressed, it means I care,” McGonigal said on School’s In, a Stanford podcast. “Stress can activate strength.”
She thinks this matters for students, in particular, who appear to be under unprecedented levels of stress. Parents should, of course, help kids reduce the sources of stress—not over-scheduling them or excessively focusing on grades and test scores—but they can also dramatically reframe stress, away from avoiding it at all costs to trying to manage the bad and leverage the good.
Whatever the challenge—inviting a new friend over, trying out for a sports team, or starting a new school—the anxiety that comes with stress looks and feels a lot like excitement. So we should think of it that way—as excitement—she said on the podcast. Your heart is pounding because you want to do well and your body is helping you to rise to the challenge. “We will do it even if our hearts are racing,” she suggested parents tell their kids.
If we only think of stress as toxic, this magnifies its toxic effects. If we see that it can have positive outcomes—preparing us to perform—we might be able to lose some of the meta-stress, the stress about stressing. Students, for example, can focus on the root of the stress (preparing for the test) and not the self-flagellation around what the stress might mean (“I’m not smart enough”).
She is quick to point out that plenty of life’s stresses cannot be willed away: poverty, abuse, and neglect cannot be mitigated with reframing.
But other types of stress can be. Read the rest of this article here.
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