The tightness at the back of my neck used to start when I was at my desk.
Now it’s there when I wake up.
My over-thinking, second-guessing, and doom-scrolling have skyrocketed.
I’m more scattered, tense, weepy, and way more tired than, well, ever.
I. Am. So. Stressed.
Massive uncertainty, that’s unlikely to let up any time soon, is sparking massive stress.
The kind that can wreck your digestion, weaken your immune system, cause weight gain, trigger a heart attack, sideline your sex life, and cover your face in adult acne while also enhancing your wrinkles.
Even as it shortens your life.
Then again, stress might not be the real problem, at least according to what researchers call the new science of stress.
Are you a good stress or a bad stress?
In her book The Upside of Stress, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal – who literally made her living teaching people how to manage stress – describes a study that changed her thinking about stress.
In 1998, thirty thousand adults in the US were asked two questions: how much stress have you experienced in the past year and do you think that stress is harmful to your health.
Eight years later, the researchers determined how many of those thirty thousand had died, and discovered that high levels of stress increased the risk of dying by 43 percent.
But wait. There’s more.
That 43% increase in the risk of dying only applied to people with both high levels of stress and also a belief that stress was harmful to their health.
Stress alone wasn’t killing people at higher rates.
Stress plus believing that it’s harmful was.
Sounds like a new age-y, wishing-will-make-it so fantasy, right?
Wrong. Significant peer-reviewed research over the past fourteen years supports that, when it comes to the negative effects of stress, our mindset about stress is key.
Dr. McGonigle’s definition of stress:
Stress is what arises when something you care about is at stake.
So it’s not a weakness or an evil plot to make you miserable.
It’s a signal to pause and consider your values, the people, things, and ideals that you care about.
And it goes hand in hand with having a meaningful life.
You don’t stress about things you don’t care about, and you can’t create a meaningful life without experiencing some stress.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that stress isn’t going away.
And that’s not a bad thing.
Changing your stress mindset is a first step toward not only minimizing its negative effects, but also growing well-being and resilience.
So, the next time you feel that tension in your neck or want to hit something or scream or cry or long for Calgon to take you away, pause and ponder what you care about and how it’s at stake.
That thing that’s stressing out just might be there, not to steal your joy, but to help you more fully appreciate, honor, and value that thing that you hold so dear.