The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal


There have only been a few times I’ve read a book that made me want to order a case and give it out to all of my friends and clients. This is one of those times. McGonigal asks in the introduction of her book (p. xi), “which statement would be more accurate?

  • Stress is harmful and should be avoided, reduced and managed.
  • Stress is helpful and should be accepted, utilized, and embraced.”

Most of us would say #1. And McGonigal based her entire health psychology practice on that premise until she came across research that convinced her otherwise. Her starting point is described in her TED talk that I blogged about last year. To summarize, she discovered that if people believe stress to be bad for them, it is. If they do not believe stress to be bad for them, it is actually good for them!

What McGonigal does in this book is spell out the ways that we can adjust our mindset about stress and thereby harness stress as a resource. Mindset is an interesting thing. When I think that my morning run is going to horrible and I’m probably too weak/tired/unmotivated to do it, then it usually turns into a pretty lazy run. Or, at the very least, my mindset has to be overcome to get to a more resourceful place. Similarly, one’s mindset about stress impacts “everything from your cardiovascular health to your ability to find meaning in life. The best way to manage stress isn’t to reduce or avoid it, but rather to rethink and even embrace it” (p.xvii).

McGonigal walks the reader through ways to get good at stress. “It’s not about being untouched by adversity or unruffled by difficulties. It’s about allowing stress to awaken in you these core human strengths of courage, connection, and growth. Whether you are looking at resilience in overworked executives or war-torn communities, the same themes emerge. People who are good at stress allow themselves to be changed by the experience of stress. They maintain a basic sense of trust in themselves and a connection to something bigger than themselves. They also find ways to make meaning out of suffering. To be good at stress is not to avoid stress, but to play an active role in how stress transforms you.” (p.94)

I’ll continue writing about these concepts in the next couple of months. To order the book, click here.

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