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Stress Isn’t Bad

Stress Isn’t Bad

August 06, 2018

What’s your definition of stress?

I’ll tell you mine: “when perceived demand exceeds capacity.”

Note the word “perceived.” You’ll soon see why.

Conventional wisdom says, “Less stress equals happiness, and more stress equals pain.” We’re conditioned to steer clear of the stress bogeyman. And it’s not for nothing.

We all know this: stress has been behind the deterioration of our health for some time. In fact, 44% of Americans feel more stressed out today than they did five years ago. Simply put, stress triggers the production of brain chemicals that shock your system. Stay in that state too long, and stress will weigh a heavy toll on your physical health, and never mind your spiritual and emotional health, too.

And what does NOT help?

  •     Two-day delivery standards.
  •     1-hour freelance services.
  •     30-second online quotes.

Ironically, the greater the speed and supposed ease, the greater the stress.

The expectations on you, the owner, to deliver faster and better is getting more and more ludicrous. If you can’t learn to speed up, you’re left in the dust.

But let’s just take a step back for a minute and point out an important fact: Stress isn’t inherently evil.

Stress is a necessary component to actually getting things done. See, the question is all wrong. It’s not “is stress bad?” It’s, “how much stress is bad?”

I recently came across a Harvard Business Review video that changed how I look at stress. In the video, “When Stress Helps You Get More Done”, the researcher explains that stress is an arousal mechanism that follows a bell curve—too little stress, and we’re bored and unproductive; too much, we move into anxiety and paralysis.

The most productive, fulfilled people are somewhere in the middle of the bell curve.

It’s not just about “no pain, no gain.” Stress actually helps us be productive, accomplish more and be happier. It stops us from procrastinating. It forces us to pay attention. It enables us meet deadlines to accomplish our goals. It forces us to do the difficult and uncomfortable things that we would otherwise ignore.

In another Harvard study, participants were asked to think of their stress reactions as helpful: adrenaline raising their energy levels, pounding hearts preparing them for action, fast breathing bringing more oxygen to their brains.

Their cardiac blood vessels actually remained in a relaxed, open state even when their brain was stressed. Their bodies exhibited peak cardiovascular performance, even when their tasks were highly stressful.

Now I know it's not so simple.

Why? Because you’ve spent years, maybe decades, operating in “high stress mode.”

You started a business and had a lot of pressure. Maybe money was tight, you were moving fast, and pushing hard to “make it.” At that time, pressure was good and necessary.

But, to quote Marshall Goldsmith, “what got you there won’t get you here.”

To truly thrive as a business owner in the long run, you have to push yourself back into the middle of the stress curve.

How? It’s all in your perception.

See, you may be still operating in the same high stress mode, because it’s what you’re used to, not because you have to.

You need to get a proposal out by tomorrow. Your stress level rises. Stop. Do you really have to? Is that stress real or are you so conditioned to reacting that way? What will happen if you don’t?

Remember my definition of stress: “when perceived demand exceeds capacity.”

It’s your perception of the activity that’s causing the stress. The activity, itself, is not inherently stressful.

In Kelly McGonigal's famous TED Talk, “How to make stress your friend,” she quotes studies which claim that people who feel a higher level of stress die more frequently than those who don’t. Shocker.

But she goes on to explain that people who objectively experienced a lot of “stressful” events but didn’t perceive them that way, were no more likely to die.

Ironically, this group had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study, including people who objectively had relatively little stress.

Your unique challenge and opportunity as a business owner is to make stress your friend by changing your perception.

Determine where you are on your own bell curve. Where is your Thrive Zone? Too much stress is unproductive, but too little stress is ultimately unfulfilling.

If you’re too far out, what can bring you back in?

Maybe cut yourself some slack with those taxing, self-imposed deadlines.

Or start learning the Art of Delegating and stop shouldering all those tasks on your own.

Reframe your stressful experiences. How can you view pressure as positive? Visualize your brain getting more oxygen, your heart pumping faster to meet the challenge.

This stress is your ignition switch for achieving something you’ve possibly never done before. It's all about how you look at it.

Taking you from where you are to where you want to be,