Butter is one of my favorite foods. Put it on a piece of toast and it becomes my very top food choice. For years, experts made us feel guilty about eating butter. It was a “death” food. Then, last year, it all reversed, and the cover of Time magazine (June 23, 2014) had a headline of “Eat Butter.” The subtitle was “Scientists Labeled Fat the Enemy. Why They Were Wrong.” What wonderful news. No more olive oil or dry toast. It was certainly a day for butter aficionados to celebrate.
Fast forward a year. I am walking through an airport and highlighted in the airport bookstore is a book titled “The Upside of Stress” by Kelly McGonigal, PhD. Its cover promises to tell us why stress is good for us and how we can get good at it. Just like butter, another myth has been reversed. It’s another reason to celebrate.
I have a positive opinion about stress. I like it. It’s important to me, to my daily functioning, and to my personal success.
I also have what I prefer to call a “crisis personality.” I love crises and I love fixing them. During my clinical training, my favorite theory was Crisis Intervention. I began my career working in a hospital emergency room. I’m not a maintenance type of person. A day without a crisis drags and seems endless. Without a crisis, you can never get out from under the status quo. Total boredom sets in.
I can recall the work of endocrinologist Hans Selye who, many years ago, differentiated stress from eustress. Eustress was defined as the good stress, the kind of stress that motivates and challenges you. Today, we hardly ever read about eustress. Instead, there is an entire billion dollar, anti-stress industry that tells us how to relax, do yoga, meditate — all worthwhile activities, I’m sure, but many of us thrive on stress. We live for it.
Stress lovers are not necessarily adrenaline junkies. I like adventure, but am not interested in extreme sport (or any sport, for that matter) or extreme risk. I do, however, like success and winning. For me, stress is good. It helps me achieve more and at a higher level. It helps me face challenges and find the best way forward. It makes me think faster, see more clearly, and move to action. What’s not to like about stress?
If you aren’t good at managing stress, McGonigal’s book has many suggestions for transforming stress into excitement and turning anxiety into energy.
From my personal experience, I would add the following:
•Become an expert on your own personal stress. Be able to differentiate good stress from bad stress. What types of stress motivate and excite you? How do you use stress in your life? How do you manage stress?
•Pay attention to your stress triggers. Be aware of what is causing you negative stress. Is it a lack of time, financial difficulties, relationship problems, or work issues. When you realize that not every problem causes you stress, you may be able to isolate your main stressors and begin to transform them into challenges that can be overcome.
•Think about what constitutes an ideal stress balance for you and work towards that. Unless you are on vacation, a complete lack of stress is probably not desirable. At the same time, being overscheduled and overloaded to the point of feeling frantic is also a negative.
•Look for meaning in your stress. Are you working for an important cause or doing valuable and significant work, or is your current stress a necessary step toward a future goal? Keep in mind that stress can be a resource that helps you achieve at a higher level.
•Recognize your stress tipping point. Even those of us who love stress can reach the point of stress overload. We all have a stress capacity limited by our physical and emotional resources. Recognize when you are getting close to your limit and get some rest, relief, or assistance.
•Don’t worry about the concept of burnout. Burnout is most often a temporary response. It is generally reversible. In fact, I believe that an episode of feeling burned out can lead to personal growth and being better able to manage stress in the future.
So tomorrow morning when you get up, have some buttered toast and welcome that stressful day ahead. And be glad that both butter and stress are now good for you.
Photo Credit: Taryn