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How to turn workplace stress into an asset


In today’s rapidly changing and demanding modern world, stress is unavoidable. However, we all acknowledge how harmful stress can be to our health, state of mind, relationships and work performance.

But what if we could turn stress into a valuable asset?

Health psychologist and Stanford University lecturer Kelly McGonigal views stress as having a positive impact on productivity, performance and self-esteem, but only when people learn how to embrace it. So how can we make the best out of a bad situation?

McGonigal highlights new research, revealing that stress can in fact make us stronger, smarter and happier. McGonigal brings to the table different situations and the body’s response towards them.

Physical Response

Most of the times, stress causes our bodies to sweat, our heart rate to increase and our breathing to be accelerated. Usually we perceive these physical changes as anxiety or an indication that we aren’t dealing very well with the situation at hand. However, a recent study conducted at Harvard University shows that we can interpret these reactions as being beneficial to our performance. Therefore, a quickened heartbeat helps us prepare for the upcoming task, with faster breathing directing more oxygen to the brain. By changing our perspective and believing that our body is helping us rise to the challenge, we become more confident and less anxious.

Social contact and support

McGonigal explains that when people are stressed, their brain releases a nanopeptide hormone called oxytocin, driving them to seek support. Therefore, when a situation gets tough, your stress response determines you to look for people who care about you and surround yourself with those who can help. This hormone has numerous positive effects on our body.

  • Firstly, one of its main roles is to protect your cardiovascular system from the effects of stress. For instance, oxytocin helps heart cells regenerate and heal from any stress-induced damage.

  • Secondly, it also helps your blood vessels stay relaxed during tense moments.  When one interacts with others under pressure, by looking for support or help from someone else, he or she releases more oxytocin, thus the strain response becomes positive and that person can actually recover faster from stress.

„How you think and how you act can transform your experience of stress. When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage. And when you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience” McGonigal states.

Watch this inspiring TED Talk and learn more about the best practices, ways and insights on using stress to your advantage.

Video source: McGonigal K. (2013), How to make stress your friend, TED Talks

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