This is probably not the article that my wife wanted me to read this morning.

However, it has a fascinating take on how to how to change stress from debilitating to enhancing by changing the way we view it.

The researchers from Yale and Harvard start by demonstrating how most books and presentations on stress and the damage it does actually increases stress levels. You end up not only stressed, but stressed about how stressed you are. To stress is added distress.

There is an alternative approach which we found to be much more successful. Crum and I showed different three-minute videos to two groups of UBS managers. The first group watched a video detailing all the findings about how stress is debilitating. The second group watched a video that talked about scientific findings that stress enhances the human brain and body. The latter information is less well known, but equally true. Stress can cause the human brain to use more of its capabilities, improve memory and intelligence, increase productivity, and even speed recovery from things like knee surgery. Research indicates that stress, even at high levels, creates greater mental toughness, deeper relationships, heightened awareness, new perspectives, a sense of mastery, a greater appreciation for life, a heightened sense of meaning, and strengthened priorities.

And the result? When someone viewed stress as enhancing rather than debilitating, they were able to use it to their advantage with higher levels of physical health, productivity, and life satisfaction.

The authors are careful to point out that they are not saying that stress is fundamentally enhancing, nor that it can have seriously damaging effects, nor that should we seek it out. However, I think their insight is helpful when moderate levels of stress begin to worry us into a worse state of mind. As they say: “When stress happens, thinking of it as enhancing rather than debilitating can lessen the risk to your health and materially improve your productivity and performance.”

  • Seth Getz

    I have always found stress to be very useful up to a point. I have always liked and used the term “eustress” to describe stress that is beneficial to me. I think if i didn’t have stress I wouldn’t get nearly as much done.