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☝️ The Upside of Stress – Kelly McGonigal

Upside of Stress - for people facing challenging or stressful situations

Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It (Goodreads Link)

Some good takeaways in the Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal, and then far too many references to personal stories. But it was easy to skim through when the stories felt too laborious and get to the next informational section.

I found this book in the Farnam Street Recommended reading list for 2020 and it felt like a such a relevant topic!

🚀 3-Sentence Summary

The advice I liked it to welcome stress, since it means you care about whatever is stressing you out. And use the energy that stress gives you.

These are the proactive steps I learned to adopt a new mindset for stress:

  1. Acknowledge stress when you experience it
  2. Welcome stress, since it means you care about whatever the thing is
  3. Use the energy that stress gives you

👍🏼 Who Should Read The Upside of Stress

I strongly recommend this book for anyone who has a lot on their plate and faces challenging or stressful situations.

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✍️ How it changed me

The Upside of Stress helped me re-frame stress as something empowering instead of disabling. I will occasionally get overwhelmed with some activities or challenges that feel stressful, and now I have language to explain to myself a proactive response to tackle those things.

💬 Top 3 Quotes

“Accept the fact that the stressful event has occurred and is real. Plan a strategy for dealing with the source of stress. Seek information, help, or advice. Take steps to overcome, remove, or change the source of stress. Try to make the best of the situation by viewing it in a more positive way or by using it as an opportunity to grow.”

“Even if you are fully aware of what you think about stress, you probably don’t realize how that belief affects your thoughts, emotions, and actions. I call this “mindset blindness.” The solution is to practice mindset mindfulness—by paying attention to how your current stress mindset operates in your life.”

“One of the best ways to notice, value, and express your own growth is to reflect on a difficult time in your life as if you were a journalist writing a restorative narrative. How would a storyteller describe the challenges you have faced? What would a good observer see as a turning point in your story—a moment when you were able to reengage or find meaning? If a journalist were to follow you for a week, what evidence would the journalist see of your strength and resilience? “

📔 Summary + Notes

Stress releases cortisol and DHEA – higher DHEA helps people thrive

“The ratio of DHEA to cortisol is called the growth index of a stress response. A higher growth index—meaning more DHEA—helps people thrive under stress. It predicts academic persistence and resilience in college students, as well as higher GPAs. During military survival training, a higher growth index is associated with greater focus, less dissociation, and superior problem-solving skills, as well as fewer post-traumatic stress symptoms afterward.”

I was very happy to read about a study showing that people get happier that they get older (Laura Carstensen at Stanford). And that people with a positive attitude towards growing older also adopt more healthy habits as they age, which also improves their quality of life.

When you view stress as helpful, it changes how you respond to it and in fact can make it a force for good, to strengthen your ability to overcome challenges.

People that believe stress to enhance their lives are less depressed and more satisfied with their lives than those who thing stress is debilitating.

Two other traits that help people deal with stress in a healthy way are mindfulness and the ability to tolerate uncertainty.

In one study, students were shown a survey and asked to write an essay to next year’s freshman, sharing a sense of belonging. This framing of their experience as something that could help incoming freshmen helped them view problems as short-lived and as something other college students expeirnece as well. And students that received the mindset intervention were more likely to seek a mentor and form close friendships.

There are two biological responses to stress – the first is the flight response, which introduces chemicals including endorphins, adrenaline, testosterone and dopamine. The second is the challenge response and helps you overcome something. ANd that past stress teaches your brain and body hwo to handle future stress.

“Whenever you ask people about these stressful but meaningful roles, the stress paradox shows up. For example, the Gallup World Poll found that raising a child under eighteen significantly increases the chance that you will experience a great deal of stress every day—and that you will smile and laugh a lot each day.”

The best definition of resilience is the courage to grow from stress – a good reminder that we cannot control the stress in our lives but we can control how we respond to it, and also that facing stress is an act of bravery.

Mindest interventiosn build on themselves because as a students perform well in the face of nerves and stress, they learn that they can perform under pressure. Also for doctors and teachers, viewing anxiety as helpful made it easier to avoid burnout.

“As corny as it sounds, many of my students report that telling themselves that they are excited when they feel anxious really works.”

Vicarious growth is a way to learn from the sufferring of others. The knowledge that you can learn from someone else helps reframe your perception of their challenges. Just knowing you can improve from hearing their story changes your response to it. Find awe in the resilience of others! It can actually bring benefits to your life as well, but you have to be willing to feel their distress.

The good that comes following a difficult or tramatic event doesnt come from the experienc,e it comes from your capacity to grow from suffering. it’s helpful to trust this capcity even in face of pain and uncertainty.

Helping someone else in the midst of your distress can actually help you feel better. Caring for someone else can amplify your own resources, even when you are feel overwhelmed or too busy.

“You can also make this a daily practice—set a goal of finding an opportunity to support someone else. By doing so, you prime your body and brain to take positive action and to experience courage, hope, and connection.”

❇️ More Resources

Laura Carstensen (Stanford) – research on how people get happier as they get older

Carstensen, Laura L., Bulent Turan, Susanne Scheibe, Nilam Ram, Hal Ersner-Hershfield, Gregory R. Samanez-Larkin, Kathryn P. Brooks, and John R. Nesselroade. “Emotional Experience Improves with Age: Evidence Based on Over 10 Years of Experience Sampling.” Psychology and Aging

Salvatore Maddi – study of employees at Bells Labs and how they overcome challenges

Maddi, Salvatore R. “The Story of Hardiness: Twenty Years of Theorizing, Research, and Practice.” Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research 54, no. 3 (2002)

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