The Hidden Value of Stress

Stress is good for you.

I know this sounds exactly the opposite of everything you’ve heard about stress …

We’ve all heard that “stress kills.” The Mayo Clinic’s website lists stress as the source of many of the ills of modern life: Lack of motivation. Anxiety. Depression. High blood pressure. Diabetes. Heart disease. Cancer has even been implicated as one of the consequences of stress.

The common wisdom is that stress is bad for you.

So, how can I say it’s good for you?

Because the other day I was sitting in the 7/8th grade class I volunteer in. Spencer, the teacher, showed the students a TED Talk by Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal.

McGonigal started her talk by describing an eight-year study on stress. The study tracked 30,000 participants for eight years. The researchers had people rate the amount of stress in their lives from very little to a great deal. They also asked the subjects if they believed stress was harmful to their health.

After eight years, the researchers examined public death records to find out who’d died.

The bad news: The high-stress group had a 43% increased risk of dying. But … and this is the key point … only if they believed that stress was harmful to their health.

The high-stress subjects who didn’t believe the common wisdom about stress had the lowest risk of dying of all the subjects. This included participants who identified themselves as having low stress.

All in all, the high-stress subjects with a positive attitude toward stress were healthier.

Sounds interesting …

 … but, what does this mean to you?

The science behind this study says that changing how you think about stress can make you healthier and more productive. If you’re healthier, you’re more able to tackle and succeed at what you need to accomplish to become an A-level copywriter.

Here’s how this works. When you’re stressed, your heart pounds. Your breathing increases. You might even break into a sweat. Typically, we look at these responses as signs of anxiety.

Instead, Dr. McGonigal suggests you look at the typical stress responses as signs that your body is being energized. The pounding heart is preparing you for action. Faster breathing increases oxygen to your brain. Your body is preparing for the challenge ahead.

Increased confidence and a healthier heart …

A study done at Harvard University provides a good example of how this can work in your favor. Participants were told to look at the stress response from this positive perspective. When asked to perform demanding tasks, they were less stressed out. Their anxiety decreased. They were more confident.

From a health standpoint, when you view stress as a health risk, your blood vessels constrict. It’s this constriction of blood vessels that can lead to heart disease. But when you take a positive perspective on stress, your blood vessels don’t constrict. They stay open.

McGonigal says, “Over a lifetime of stressful experiences, this one biological change could be the difference between a stress-induced heart attack at age 50 and living well into your 90s. And this is really what the new science of stress reveals, that how you think about stress matters.”

Unlocking the drive to succeed …

Here’s what this could mean for you as a copywriter. You have a lot of demands on your time. Your family. Your job. The AWAI programs you’re studying. Spec assignments you hope to write.

Tons of stress.

If you take the traditional view of stress as harmful, these demands can be paralyzing. And not just emotionally, they can be physically paralyzing, as well.

“I don’t know where to start. There’s too much to do. I don’t have time.” How many times have you said these things to yourself when faced with the decision to dig into the Accelerated Program or a spec assignment?

But if you take a “new and improved” attitude that stress can be good for you, you’ll be more confident that you can succeed at these tasks. You’ll feel energized. And, significantly, you’ll be more ready to seek outside help.

How is this so? When you have this positive response to stress, your body increases production of the brain hormone oxytocin. (Oxytocin has been dubbed the “cuddle hormone,” because it’s released when you hug someone.)

Oxytocin makes you more social and empathetic. It makes you reach out to help other people. But it also makes you more ready to seek support from other people.

So, let’s say you’re having trouble understanding an important concept in the Accelerated Program. The typical stress response to the situation is to bottle up. But, by taking a positive perspective on stress, you’re more likely to turn to someone else – like a fellow AWAI Member – for help.

You go to the AWAI Forum, post your question, and get an answer that gets you over the stumbling block.

Looking at stress from this positive viewpoint may take awhile. But it’s worth making the change. This study has changed the way I look at stress and the way I approach stressful situations.

Dr. McGonigal’s closing remarks on the TED Talk cemented why I’m making this change. And why I urge you to do the same …

“When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage. And when you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience. Stress gives us access to our hearts. The compassionate heart that finds joy and meaning in connecting with others, and yes, your pounding physical heart, working so hard to give you strength and energy. And when you choose to view stress in this way, you’re not just getting better at stress, you’re actually making a pretty profound statement. You’re saying that you can trust yourself to handle life’s challenges, and you’re remembering that you don’t have to face them alone.”

And what copywriter doesn’t need courage … resilience … and self-trust?

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: February 10, 2014

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