I was on the phone with my friend D-Liv the other day, and he was talking about how work and money had him “waaaaAAAAAAAAY UP I feel stressed.” **Drake Voice**
(Drizzy fans? Get it? No? Whatever…)
But seriously, we can all feel him on this, right? I must get stressed about money and my career at least once per day. Unfortunately, this might be something that never goes away. In Tony Robbins new book, Money he interviews multi-billionaires who all say that the fear of poverty never really goes away even though they are good on cash for life.
It’s been said that Warren Buffet keeps $20 million in cash stored away to feel “comfortable.”
Something WB and I have in common, I suppose.
The problem with D-Liv was that he was at a point where the stress and anxiety was literally making him sick. He was getting pains in his stomach and head. He felt the urge to vomit.
I can’t lie; he’s not alone on this. I’ve felt this way many times over the past few years.
The problem with stress is that, feeling stressed, makes us think about how bad stress is for us, which, of course makes us more stressed and more convinced that we’re going to get cancer and die.
Can Stress Be Positive?
Let’s flip the script real quick though.
What if stress actually wasn’t killing you? What if depression, cancer, heart disease, chronic anxiety, and dissolving toenails weren’t all side effects of stress?
What if it was actually enhancing your health and life? What if stress could help you focus? What if stress could make you happier, more confident, and stronger?
Well, it can.
Kelly McGonigal is a Professor of Psychology at Stanford and just dropped a new book called The Upside of Stress. In it, she aims to shift our paradigm in thinking that stress is a toxic killer. She attempts to change our view from a “stress is harmful” thought process to a “stress is enhancing” mindset.
“The latest science reveals that stress can make you smarter, stronger, and more successful. It helps you learn and grow. It can even inspire courage and compassion.” Says McG (can I call her McG?).
Okay, so what is it that makes stress enhancing rather than debilitating?
How Can Stress Be A Positive Force?
After D told me about his anxiety I started to think about McGonigals book, and asked him about his college football days. I asked him,
“D, when you played ball didn’t you have all these same symptoms? Didn’t your palms get sweaty? Didn’t you get that tightness feeling in your stomach and have an increased heart rate?
“Of course.” He said.
But he didn’t view this as killing him. He viewed it as enhancing. He viewed it as adrenaline, excitement, and being pumped up. Although he had all the same physiological symptoms, his perception actually changed his biology. Instead of paralyzing him with anxiety, it gave him energy. Instead of feeling sick, he felt focused.
It all comes down to perception. How you view your stress is how your biology responds.
For D-Liv, sweaty palms in the work cubicle meant chronic anxiety and imminent death. However, butterflies in the locker room were perceived as excitement.
In McGonigal’s book she talks about two types of stress hormones.
- Cortisol: Cortisol is the stress hormone that if sustained at high levels over long periods of time can hurt your health and causes many of the well-known negative effects of stress: heart disease, cancers, depression, chronic anxiety, etc.
- DHEA: DHEA is the other stress hormone that can actually enhance focus, help your immune system, battle depression, and even prevent against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Both are released by your adrenal glands during periods of stress, but what matters is the ratio of DHEA to cortisol (called the growth index of a stress response). Those who view stress as negative tend to have a higher ratio of cortisol to DHEA. However, those who view stress as a sign of a challenge or excitement tend to have a higher portion of DHEA.
Throughout many experiments talked about in her book she found that the only difference in which hormone was released was the perception people had of stress.
Yes. You read that right. How to see stress (is it good or bad) literally changes whether it is good or bad for you. Whoa.
Okay, so how do you work on changing your perception? So glad you asked. Here are some tools from McGonigals book as well as some of my own that I have found useful for me and my clients:
This is one of those magical powers in the universe that I cannot explain. Entrepreneur Tai Lopez talks about how, ironically, generously giving away your money causes it to come back to you tenfold. Bill Gates gives away nearly all his money and is still the richest man in the world.
It’s the same thing with stress. Give more of your time and energy in helping others and watch time and energy come back to you tenfold.
Wharton School of Business is quoted saying: “When individuals feel time constrained, they should become more generous with their time—despite their inclination to be less so.”
McGonigal. says, “If you struggle with avoidance, self-doubt, or feeling overwhelmed, helping others is one of the most powerful motivation boosters that you can find.”
Zig Ziglar says, “You can have anything you want if you help enough other people get what they want.”
I say, “Don’t ask me why. Don’t ask me how. Do it, don’t do it, I don’t care. But the shit works.”
Journal Your Value:
Take 5-10 minutes/day to write about your values. What do you stand for? Students who wrote about their values over a winter break gained clearer meaning in their lives. It gives us a why for what we do. Stressful experiences become “an expression of values rather than hassles to overcome”
McGonigal says “Stress and meaning are inextricably linked. You don’t stress about things you don’t care about, and you can’t create a meaningful life without experiencing some stress.”
If you don’t have values, then well, we have a lot of work to do…
I recommended this to D-Liv based on my own experience, and he, like most of my friend circle, scoffed at the idea. Meditation is a little woo-woo-Buddhist-monk-WTF-out-there-type advice still, and that’s cool. But it has been shown to decrease stress, improve focus and attention span, improve immune function, and make us more compassionate.
How to Meditate:
- Set a timer for 5 minutes
- Take deep breaths in and out and focus on ONE thing (the way your breath feels in your lungs or coming in and out of your nose, the way your hands feel on your knees, a spot on the wall, whatever!)
The goal is to silence your mind. Naturally this will be damn near impossible. But every time your mind wanders, simply bring your mind back to that one focus point. When your time is up, you’re done. Rinse & Repeat daily.
Don’t Try to Calm Down:
One of the most interesting experiments in McGonigals book was when the researchers took two groups of students who were giving presentations. One group was told to try to calm down and relax. The other group was told to announce that they felt excited about giving the presentation.
Later, people who watched the presentations rated the “excited group” as more persuasive, confident, and competent. If you have sweaty palms and dry mouth, don’t tell yourself you’re calm, cool, and collected. We can see your armpit sweat from here.
Do what D-Liv did in the locker room. Be excited and pumped up! Announce it! And watch your actions follow suit.
Hang With Friends:
One of the most powerful things you can do for somebody is let them know they aren’t alone. One of the best things I could do for D-Liv is to let him know I’ve been there too, and to work on things together.
Go to Starbucks or Chipotle with some friends to de-stress. We’re in our twenties for goodness sakes. Life is good.
This is the last tool I’ll give you. It’s an awesome exercise, but it’s hard to do consistently. It’s an easy thing to put on the “I’ll do it later” list, and all of a sudden it’s 2022 and you haven’t done shit. Shawn Achor, author of my favorite book on happiness, Before Happiness, consistently talks about gratitude and it’s importance on our wellbeing. If you’re a stronger person than I, try this consistently:
Sit down every morning and write out 3 to 5 different (the have to be different everyday) things that you are grateful for (i.e. your health, family, Chipotle, vodka, etc. – there’s day #1 for you right there).
Gratitude is the greatest conqueror of fear because when you practice being grateful in the moment, you find that life really isn’t that bad.
With that, remember:
“Stress is neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.” Shakespeare (kind of..)