The Productivity Cycle: how stress can lead to improved performance

Exploiting the hidden benefits of stress

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Not long ago, John Roberts Jr., a Supreme Court’s Chief Justice gave an eloquent commencement speech. For the sake of this discourse, imagine the caption to be, ‘I Wish You Bad Luck.’ During the paradoxical speech, Roberts tried to make them appreciate the silver lining that comes with every cloud.

Similarly, the average human has, through experience, adopted a series of negative stereotypes about stress. In this article, we shall be dispelling such belief and subsequently set forth the manifold merits of courting stress. You would be surprised after realizing what you’ve been missing all along.

Various categories of stress

“While too little stress can lead to boredom and depression, too much can cause anxiety and poor health. The right amount of acute stress, however, tunes up the brain and improves performance and health.”

Robert Sanders

Stress comes in various shades; the more reason why we cannot outrightly dismiss it as bad. Psychologists have come to categorize stress as eustress, acute stress, and chronic stress.

Eustress is said to be ‘good stress,’ it is the type we experience when we get all excited. For example, this kind of excitement rush accompanies high-adrenaline activities like sky-diving or going on a roller coaster ride. Acute stress manifests whenever we have to institute some form of inertia. For example, when learning a new language or starting a new exercise regimen. Meanwhile, chronic stress emanates from repeated exposure to stressors.

Eustress and acute stress are healthy and can yield positive outcomes. On the contrary, it is essential to avoid all triggers of chronic stress.

Applying liberality to stress stereotypes

“How you think about something can transform its effect on you.”

Alia Crum

Several scientific studies have exposed how much impact mindset has in our opinion of certain concepts. For example, human trials of placebos show that a simple mind shift is enough to help a sick patient recover.

As earlier mentioned, it is necessary to avoid whatever may cause chronic stress. A stressful job, repeated sexual abuse, an unhappy home life, are examples of chronic stress trigger. Nonetheless, psychologists have discovered that ‘good stress’ can make us better. Eustress helps calibrate our nervous system and our fight-or-flight hormones. In comparison, acute stress helps us garner enough willpower to set new goals and follow through.

Kelly McGonigal offers professional counsel in her book – The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It. She recommends the 3-step formula for changing your mindset about stress:

1. Learn the new point of view

Firstly, you need to come to terms with the following facts about stress:

  • Experiencing stress enhances my performance and productivity.
  • Experiencing stress improves my health and vitality.
  • Experiencing stress facilitates my learning and growth.
  • The effects of stress are positive and should be utilized.

2. Do an exercise that encourages you to adopt and apply the new mindset

You may have to recite the new viewpoints about stress to yourself repeatedly until it sticks. Also, for every stressor, you’re able to identify, plan to deal with it from the source. Next, seek information, help, or advice on how to eliminate the stressors. Afterward, take active strep to remove the basis of the stress. A stressor that registers a one-time occurrence should push you beyond your natural limits. And in the long run, cause you to grow and develop. Summarily, you can utilize stress as a trigger for growth.

3. Provide an opportunity to share the idea with others

Whenever you rehearse how harnessing stress positively affects your life, it naturally influences others to adopt a similar mind shift. Besides serving as motivation for others, you get to remind yourself of the positive potentials of stress.

“Mentally congratulate yourself every time you change your mind and admit that you’re wrong.”

Tom Bilyeu

You cannot avoid the sun, harness it!

Have you been to the Tropics, more precisely – the Middle East? An experience of noonday sun scorch may force you to posit the sun is an unnecessary addition to creation. Similarly, those who have a warped perception of stress are likely to avoid it altogether. Some would avoid stress by living below their potential. And others would turn to alcohol and antidepressants to cascade stress.

“A less stressful life doesn’t make people nearly as happy as they think it will.”

Kelly McGonigal

Perhaps you’re screaming: “Let us eliminate all stressors already!”, from the back alley of your mind. You may find yourself receding into depression if you do so. Why? Well, researchers have found a direct link between stress and having a meaningful life. Invariably, ignoring, avoiding, or eliminating stress will make you live below your potential.

Do you want a meaningful life? If yes, don’t avoid stress. Deal with stress by harnessing it productively.

Some health benefits of stress

According to Healthline, there are four notable benefits of stress, of which many are surprisingly ignorant. Timothy Legg and Valencia Higuera made the following findings after sifting through wades of stress-specific research:

Stress improves your cognitive function

Try self-evaluating yourself during seasons of high stress at work. It may come as a surprise that you have a higher turnover of productivity during such circumstances. A suitable buffer for comparison would be days when things go slow and steady.

Keeps your body on the offensive

We mentioned earlier that Eustress primes your nervous system. ‘Good stress’ has a way of sharpening the immune system. In effect, stress (not the chronic type) helps your body fight infections better.

It makes you a stronger person

“The smith’s hammer helps harden the metal.” Each time stress stretches you beyond your limit, you become hardy – and more vigorous. Living in your comfort zone makes you soft, sensitive, and vulnerable.

A good trainer for fetuses

Studies have found that mild stress can have far-reaching effects on pregnant women. Medical experts do not recommend intentionally exposing pregnant women to stress. But the findings establish that the mother and child are likely to turn out more healthy during birth and child development.

The morphing of energy

Stress is a form of energy. Close kin of stress, friction, transformed scientists’ view about the exploitation of energy only some decades ago. In the early years of mechanical innovation, engineers endeavored to eliminate friction because it reduced machines’ efficiency. However, they subsequently realized that friction has more benefits than drawbacks. Likewise, without stress, it is almost impossible to achieve productivity. Now, the reasonable question to ask is: “How can you transform stress into a productive form?”

Kelly McGonigal, a medical psychologist, recommends easy steps for effectively harnessing stress, as itemized in her book – The Upside of Stress.  

  1. Emerge: How Anxiety Helps You Rise to the Challenge
  2. Convert: How Caring Creates Resilience
  3. Grow: How Adversity Makes You Stronger

We’ve undoubtedly answered your question of how bad or good stress is. Several research-backed resources are available to make you better harness stress. We can save you the trouble of having to read wades of research journals on the subject.

The Upside of Stress is a book of interesting facts about stress and how you can better hone it. Visit our Headway library to read a succinct summary of the book, and start using stress to your advantage.

Let everyone know what you think!