At one point in my career, it felt like stress was going to defeat me. Deadlines were mounting, I felt physically sick and I hadn’t slept in days. The stress seemed inevitable. I was right. If I was going to live with this inevitability for the rest of my professional life, something had to change. I couldn’t remove stress from my life, but I could change my reaction to it.

As it turns out, changing your perception of stress isn’t just life-altering, it’s life-saving.

In her 2013 Ted TALK on stress, Kelly McGonigal shines a light on how our perceptions of stress can be more damaging than the stress itself. She refers to a study conducted by the University of Madison-Wisconsin in which 30,000 adults had their cortisol levels monitored to rate their stress-levels. Participants were then asked if they believed that stress was bad for their health.

Over the next eight years, researchers used public records to find out which participants from the study had died. The data indicated that people who had both experienced high cortisol stress levels and believed that it was harmful had a 43% increased risk of dying. However, participants who experienced a high cortisol stress level, but did not view it as unhealthy had the lowest risk of dying compared to anyone else in the study, including participants who had very low cortisol stress levels.

From high blood pressure to insomnia, stress is constantly associated with negative health effects, however recent research indicates that stress comes with a number of surprising benefits. Scientists at Berkeley found that when rats were placed in short-term stressful situations, their memory and cognitive function improved. And, while many associate stress with heart disease, the pituitary gland releases oxytocin during stress, and this hormone immediately starts protecting the heart while simultaneously regenerating heart cells.

As the saying goes: whatever you believe is true to you. If you believe that stress can kill you, it will. However, once I realised that stress could work for me rather than against me, not only did my business improve, but I slept better and felt happier and healthier.

Stress is good for you if you think it is.

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