Reducing Stress Is Probably Not the Answer

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Serenity now. Or not.Photo: NBC

Being stressed out is not exactly fun, and so it’s no surprise that people are constantly in search of ways to reduce or prevent or avoid the anxious feeling altogether. “We have this story about stress that says when stress is present, there’s something wrong with me or something wrong with my life,” Stanford lecturer Kelly McGonigal explained recently to Fast Company. But stress is a part of being human, as McGonigal notes in her recent book, The Upside of Stressit means that you’ve taken a risk, or simply that you care about whatever it is that’s tying your stomach in knots. Stress isn’t an inherently bad thing, in other words, but the trick is managing your reaction to it.

One way to start doing that, she suggests, is to look for the meaning behind the anxiousness. “Sometimes, when you’re feeling stressed out, you literally have to say to yourself, ‘I’m stressed out right now because I care about my job,’ or, ‘This is stressful because I’m a parent and parenting is stressful,’” she told Fast Company. Writer Gwen Moran elaborates on that:

When you start looking at why you’re stressed, McGonigal says, you either find meaning or have an opportunity to dissolve it. If your stress level is rising because you’re in the 10-item checkout line and the person in front of you has 15 items, ask yourself why that matters. If you can realize that it doesn’t matter, it makes it easier to let go of stressors that aren’t important. But when the answer is something you care about — such as when you’re anxious about your health or job — the realization allows you to connect with that value and put the stress in perspective, she says.

Instead of looking for ways to avoid or reduce stress, do the opposite: Face it, and figure out why it’s bothering you. McGonigal argues that it’ll help you start to figure out what to do next.