Module 1: Lesson 3
Work Stress Can Be Good For You (20 min.)
> Moderate levels of stress with breaks can actually be good for you
Reading that title you’re probably thinking, “WTF? I’m here to get rid of stress not embrace it.”
Just hear us out for a bit and read on. Trust us.
In the previous examples of the lioness chase or dog attack, the body’s stress system was critically important. It saved the gazelle from being dinner for the lioness. And in the dog attack scenario, it instantly prepared your body to defend itself.
Without stress, many animals, as well as us humans, wouldn’t live to see many days. Stress is a good thing in the right situations, particularly in life-threatening ones.
But what about in normal day-to-day work life?
Is having stress at work a good or bad thing?
The short answer is yes, stress can be a good thing under the right conditions. First, it’s limited to moderate levels of stress for short durations with recovery time. Second, you have the right attitude and view about stress.
Those two points above are important. Read them again.
Moderate Stress Is Beneficial
When you’re exposed to moderate levels of short-term stress with recovery time, your body actually begins to develop a greater tolerance for stress. It actually makes you a bit more mentally and physically tough.
Think of it this way. It’s like getting a flu shot vaccine.
Your body is exposed to a tiny amount of the flu strain. This is a stressor to your immune system. Your immune system will fight back and develop stronger immunities to that flu strain. So, when flu season rolls around, your immune system is ready and can easily defend against it.
Moderate levels of short-term work stress pretty much do the same thing.
In this UC Berkeley study, Daniela Kaufer, associate professor of biology, said that “Some amounts of stress are good to push you just to the level of optimal alertness, behavioral and cognitive performance.”
Her research results showed that “when rats are exposed to moderate stress for a short time - being immobilized for a few hours, for instance - stem cell growth is stimulated, and those cells go on to form neurons or brain cells. A couple of weeks later, tests show improvements in learning and memory.”
It actually boosted their brain power.
The graphic below visually shows what’s were talking about here. It’s the relationship between stress levels and performance output.
The eustress zone is when stress feels more like pressure instead of stress.
It's like when you have stuff to do at work, but you're not overwhelmed yet.
When there’s an upcoming deadline for a priority project and it’s the main task for the week, we hunker down and get it done. It's like when you've got to finish putting together your portion of a group presentation. You've already got all the core content from a previous presentation. It's just a matter of updating the information and formatting it to fit in the template.
And when we hit the ‘send’ button, we feel a sense of accomplishment and relief at the same time.
That's eustress working for you...yeah, baby!
Here’s another perspective on eustress from Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University. She wrote the book, “The Upside Of Stress” that you can pick it up on Amazon. Her 15 minute TED talk below about stress is one of the most viewed ever.
VIDEO: How To Make Stress Your Friend
YOUTUBE CHANNEL: TED
Here are Kelley's 3 main take-aways:
1. When you change your mind about stress, you change how your body responds to it
2. When you view stress as a good thing, your body will believe you and its stress response will be healthier
3. Human connections not only help in stress recovery but also build up your immunity to stress
This is a great example of “mind over body”. Our minds are much more powerful than we think.
To summarize, eustress is a good thing. Short-term moderate stress can benefit you as long as you have the right mindset and there’s time for recovery.