The Surprising Benefits of Stress
We’re bombarded with messages that stress is bad, it causes every health issue from heart disease to chronic pain. While this is true for chronic, unremitting stress – healthy doses of stress can enhance your life.
Want to be more productive? Linda Formichelli suggests trying a little stress.
Linda Formichelli, journalist, freelance writer, mother, wife, business owner, world traveller, host of parties, enthusiastic hobbyist, has a new book coming out later this month, “How to Do It All: The Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life — While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out With a Sharpie”. In it, she explains why she’s a big advocate for healthy doses of stress, as the key to being more productive and living a fulfilling, enriched life.
“The media tells us that you could do it all and be a super person but you’d be stressed, and stress is bad for you. But if you want to live a full and meaningful life, it’s going to be stressful,” said Formichelli to me in a recent interview. “At the end of 2015, I made a list of everything I did last year. I had 40 things on the list, including running 2 profitable businesses, taking our 6-year-old to multiple countries, writing 40 blog posts, writing a book, hosting 3 foreign exchange students, and speaking at conferences. It was huge. People were asking me how I got so much done.” Although she has a super-impressive list of achievements for one year, Formichelli claims she’s no superwoman, she says anyone can be this productive if they put their mind to it.
The book has a full chapter dedicated to the virtues of acute stress. There are poignant gems such as, “Who looks back with pride at the end of the year (or at the end of their lives) on how much TV they watched, or how many Facebook posts they commented on? Most likely, every moment in your life you remember with fondness and pride took effort…and effort often means stress.”
The American Psychological Association agrees that healthy doses of stress can enhance your life, “Stress is to the human condition what tension is to the violin string: too little and the music is dull and raspy; too much and the music is shrill or the string snaps. Stress can be the kiss of death or the spice of life. The issue, really, is how to manage it.” Health Psychologist Kelly McGonigal expounded in a TED talk about the benefits of healthy stress, including the ability for stress-induced hormones to create stronger social bonds.
Acute stress, the kind found when engaging in a complex project like writing a book or training for a marathon, ramps up in response to these stressors. It then dials back when the event has passed, taking stress hormones back to normal levels. In her TED talk, McGonigal shares the findings from a Harvard study, where participants were taught to reframe the stress signals the body was showing as being helpful, “That pounding heart is preparing you for action. If you’re breathing faster, it’s no problem, it’s getting more oxygen to your brain…participants who learned to view the stress response as helpful for their performance, well, they were less stressed out, less anxious, more confident…” Science is telling us that it’s the way we think about acute stress that’s the problem, rather than the stress itself.
“How to Do It All: The Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life — While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out With a Sharpie” is chock-full of useful tips that are contrary to popular wisdom, such as sleep less, be inconsistent and talk to yourself.
“The tips I provide in the book work for me. I’ve cut down on email. I’ll get emails and just let them sit there until Friday, which is my admin day. I only watch one TV show. I don’t use social media, except the private Facebook group for this book. The book asks you to think about what your priorities are, and it’s probably not watching TV.”
The biggest tip that she offers is in time management “It often seems that we don’t have time for what we want to do, so we don’t start,” said Formichelli “ We’ll think ‘Oh I have this thing coming up at 10 so I can’t work on my report,’ but what we have is 168 hours a week. Even after sleep and work, you still have 72 hours a week. We feel we have no time because the free time we have is is broken into tiny chunks.” The key then is to carve out large chunks of time, and you can do that by looking at your schedule and analyzing what you’re doing. Then streamlining your days by batching tasks up, such as making all your phone calls in the morning.
Formichelli advises to write down every single thing you do in the day and work out ways to streamline it. “Our minds tend to make habits and we never stop to analyze them. Look through your list and ask yourself, do I need to be doing this item? Can someone else be doing that? People think that they can’t do everything they want, but if they analyze their time, and break away from the status quo, they can accomplish much more than they think.”
“How to Do It All: The Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life — While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out With a Sharpie” by Linda Formichelli, will be released on the 18th April. Click here to read a sample.
Looking for more productivity tools? Check out our blog post on the top 5 productivity apps.